Marking New Beginnings

spring flowers

It’s February and if we narrow our eyes and look into the still-quite-far distance, there’s a possibility we can see the first signs of spring.

Fair enough, this month has potential to take us back into the dark gloomy days of winter with an often late-rush of snow bringing travel to a standstill and keeping us housebound for a day or two. But, we’re nearer the end of the dark season than the beginning.

I have friends who love and appreciate each of our four seasons individually and separately and I love them for their ability to see what I can’t quite pick up. I’m happy until Christmas and the Twelfth Night beyond but then my spirits sink and I can’t wait for the gloom to lift.

This is a good time for reflection. It’s still close enough to the new year – and last year – to bring a touch of optimism when considering what might work in the future and what didn’t in the past. We can still remember those new year resolutions which seemed a good idea at the time.

I have a glimmer of light for February because of  the birthday of a young friend. She, coming up to six, has excitement at the anticipation of what is soon to be in store. Like many children, she’s thoughtful and now capable of deciding what she wants so is taking part in the plotting and the planning of her big day.

girl smiling at cake

And that has led me on to other thoughts …

If we’re lucky, we celebrate births, and birthdays for a number of years as children and then it seems to peter out a little. Why’s that I wonder?Is it that we see children as needing more celebrations and parties than adults and, if so, how do we decide when to stop? Is it arbitrary to the parents? Do some children do better than others? Or is there a time when it just feels natural and right?

I’m writing from the cultural perspective of a person born into a western culture in a Christian faith. My views may or may not be different to the culture I was born into but, like many people, I take them for granted and perhaps question less than I should. Maybe it’s a good time to question and compare and contrast these values with other belief systems.

As a person who has both a professional and personal interest in human development, I enjoy observing the evolving of a child into a teenager and beyond. I observe it as a process that glides from one stage to another until that young baby becomes a fully formed grown up “adult”. Of course it doesn’t  happen like that or, at least, not for every young person.

I’ve been reconsidering what could be described as an old-school idea of an official acknowledgement of a “coming of age”? A party that acknowledges a young person is stepping out of their role as a child and into a future world where they will face life as an adult, with the trials and tribulations it brings?

Other cultures already have this, I know, and they tend to be based on religious ceremonies and beliefs. They are rites of passage which usually occur around the age of puberty, at least for the boy. Some faiths have younger transition periods for the girl which, it seems to me, might not be quite in the spirit of what I’m considering.

Britain in the old days had its own particular form of coming of age ceremony for girls but, again, not necessarily for the right reasons. A young girl, aged 17 or 18, might be presented to the monarch of theday and it was known as her “coming out”, her invitation and acceptance to the royal court. Of course you had to have rich parents to pay for all that and only aristocrats with the right connections could take part. It was, effectively, a marriage market for young ladies to meet eligible young men from a similar background.

If you were a young girl unlucky enough to be in probably what was 99% of the British population, you’d be sent out to service when you were aged 12+ – if you lived that long – and that was as much “coming out” as you would get.

The lower classes did not have much of a separation between child- and adulthood, as they still often don’t within the developing world and perhaps that is the point. There was once no need for a differential because life expectancy was lower and becoming an adult, and one with lots of choices at that, was a privilege, not a right.

But let’s put all that bleakness behind us and look at where we are now.

How would it be if every child were to have their own unique and starring role in an event to mark that step across the bridge from child to adult? It would have to be joyous. It could comprise a party, dressing up, celebrations with cake and dancing, and even a drink or two.

kevin gent dizbftl7c a unsplash

But it would also need to have a declaration of sorts whereby the individual was not only praised and pampered, but also reminded that, from now on, s/he was expected to be more than just the sum of other people’s parts. The expectation would be that the young adult would be willing to add to the cohesion of society and to understand that a sense of togetherness was a good thing, something to be admired. S/he would be a complete whole entity, a contributor who could help to make this world a better place if only s/he chose to do so.

How does that sound? Maybe, if we knew early on there was such an expectation of ourselves, we might find it easier to face what lies ahead. I remember confirmation classes and I had no clue what was going on – probably a little too young – but at least someone adult was trying to prepare me for what lay ahead. I get a sense sometimes that we – or I, at least  – may be longing to go back to a time when we lived as freely as in the happiest of childhoods. It’s a delicious fantasy. We keep growing. We have to leave childhood and our care-free selves behind.

I look forward from February onwards with hopes for spring and a knowledge of which season follows on, and what to expect from it. I enjoy the certainty of what comes next, give or take a seasonal variation, and I look forward to new surprises.

I wonder how it would be if – in the same way as the seasons which we know come and go with comforting regularity – the delineation was officially marked as far as people and their growth was concerned. Would it help us navigate that often tricky long and winding road, if we had an inkling of what was expected of us in our adult form? I think it might.