In my life, I have always prided myself on being an excellent observer. As a writer, composer and thinker, I constantly have my eyes open, examining the subtle intricacies that life presents on a silver platter. I have seen magnificent beauty and terrible strife, but each has its place in the fabric of our existence.
When you observe the path an average life takes, we can divide it into certain predetermined chunks. According to Thomas Armstrong in his book, Human Odyssey: Navigating the Twelve Stages of Life, the Twelve Stages of Life and their major attributes are as follows:
1. Prebirth: Potential
2. Birth: Hope
3. Infancy: Vitality
4. Early Childhood: Playfulness
5. Middle Childhood: Imagination
6. Late Childhood: Ingenuity
7. Adolescence: Passion
8. Early Adulthood: Enterprise
9. Midlife: Contemplation
10. Mature Adulthood: Benevolence
11. Late Adulthood: Wisdom
12. Death and Dying: Life
Each stage is succinct and defined, everything that our lives are not. Nowhere in that explaining are the fact that, to get from stage to stage, you need to transition.
In school, I was taught very little about the idea of transitioning between life stages. Teachers are, either willingly or unwillingly, pushing us into the idea of what they next stage will contain, but not telling us how to get there. For all the talk of College in high school, I was never told that it would be one of the most difficult transitions to make. ACT Scores and Scholarships won't teach you not to fall on your face when you're standing at the arches and identifying that you've been pushed into something you were not conditioned to.
My belief that the transitions between life stages is as important, if not more, than the stage itself. If you fail in your navigation between stages, your time in that stage will be fraught with confusion and anger, leading to psychological problems and potential substance abuse.
When I transitioned from middle school to high school, I was moving from a class of seven in my small Lutheran school to hundreds in my new public high school. The only advice I got for that transition was to put your trust in God and all will be right with the world. Sadly, as honorable as that advice was and is, it can only do so much. What I needed was coping mechanisms and mantras to be drilled into my head, something finite to hold onto while I was struggling. But I didn't get any of that and, as a result, my high school years were very difficult, though rewarding and not nearly as bad as some may have experienced. I wasn't bullied, but I was belittled and tossed aside (being an opera fan didn't help, because that gave them something specific to ridicule.) But I trudged on and, happily, I was finally able to assimilate sometime in my Junior year.
But, just as I was getting used to high school, the idea of college was shoved into my face. I wasn't able to deal with it in the slightest and, more often than not, I chose to ignore the problem. Let me tell you, if you have a problem in your life, ignoring it isn't the answer. Ignoring a problem is like drinking poison out of a Mountain Dew bottle: it may be harmless for a while, but eventually it'll start to kick you in the ass. This time the transition was even more devastating, mentally more than anything else, because I wasn't given the tools to navigate the stormy waters. And, as history does, it repeats itself: my first two years of college were fraught with anxiety, uncertainty and isolation, but after than I assimilated and became incredibly successful in my personal life and with my chosen profession.
My purpose of that little diatribe is to impress upon you all the idea of preparing people for transitions in their life stages. Parents especially need to take an active, healthy role in this. All too often parents are picking their kids up by the scruff, like an old, grizzled dog, and tossing them into these complex issues without a life preserver. The first eighteen years of our development are undoubtedly the most important in terms of our growth has human beings, but it is also the path that contains the most minefields.
There is also personal responsibility in this matter to be discussed. If you have neglectful parents or an unhealthy support system, you're not immune to teaching yourself about these transitions. There are so many people to talk about these things honestly and openly with: psychologists, teachers, librarians etc... The best advice I can impart is to never ignore the problem, simply find someone who can give you the advice and practical abilities to make honest, well thought out choices.
To preface this final illustrative anecdote, I must preface by saying I work as materials management clerk at my local library. Yesterday, we had a meeting with a local representative of Lutherbrook, a home and rehabilitation center just a few blocks from our library. These kids are placed there because they are wards of the state, taken from their abusive or nonexistent families. They often have several mental and emotional problems as a result of their trauma and abuse and come to Lutherbrook broken, battered and empty. In their one-and-a-half year stay, they are taught the exact things I've discussed previously in this article: how to transition from one place to another and have the tools to deal with life rationally and effectively. This place is in itself a transition for these children and teenagers, the embodiment of what is needed to be successful in navigating the creases of life. It was astounding to hear the story of this place and what they're doing to help the youth of the Chicagoland area.
Dear readers, I ask you to look at your own lives and the lives of your children or family. Talk to each other openly about the difficulty of transition and how the idea is just as important as receiving at the destination. There is so much we can do to educate our family and friends about this matter and it literally takes minutes to impart the hard truths of the matter.
Life is a difficult path, a hedge-maze where there is no map and no GPS. It's up to use to take charge and chart out the course as best we can.
To quote a breathtaking song by the late Stephen Paulus, called "The Road Home,":
"Tell me, where is the road I can call my own, That I left, that I lost So long ago? All these years I have wandered, Oh when will I know There's a way, there's a road That will lead me home?
"After wind, after rain, When the dark is done, As I wake from a dream In the gold of day, Through the air there's a calling From far away, There's a voice I can hear That will lead me home.
"Rise up, follow me, Come away, is the call, With the love in your heart As the only song; There is no such beauty As where you belong; Rise up, follow me, I will lead you home."