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Rites of Passage With Wisdom to Grow

Life is change. What can we learn about ourselves as we tackle challenges?

A few days ago my daughter had her wisdom teeth removed. This is a teenage rite of passage, at least for most of us. My friend, Laurie, says that she is more highly evolved because she didn’t have wisdom teeth. My rite of passage included having my wisdom teeth removed and then moving the next day from South Dakota to Louisiana. That trip took place in an un-air-conditioned VW Dasher with a Great Dane, a car-crazy Irish Setter, and a poodle. We then inherited our cats once the U-haul broke down. This is the story I tell whenever my kids complain about their experience. Even though I do try to stay sympathetic; after all everyone’s story is different. Each experience is challenge—it is an operation after all!

So what are rites of passage? According to the Oxford Dictionary a rite of passage is “a ceremony or event marking an important stage in someone’s life, especially birth, the transition from childhood to adulthood, marriage, and death”. We go through many transitions, changes and events in our life that mark moving from one point in time to the next. What we may need to question is what are we learning from these experiences? Perhaps we don’t learn much—other than we can survive certain challenges. My daughter has had some difficult moments in her recovery. Maybe her story will be the more routine wisdom tooth story but she now knows that she can push through it. She will have other rites of passage that may be more difficult than my stories. Everyone’s life is different.

Why are rites of passage important? They let us know what we can handle. They also remind us that we are overcoming hurdles. We are reminded that everything changes. Change in itself can be a problem sometimes. People handle change differently. Some struggle with change. They would like to control everything if possible. But life is change. Every moment is a new one. It reminds me of a Zen proverb—you can never step into the same river twice. Once you have come into contact with the river—it is changed. It will never be the same again.


• How do you feel about change? That might be the first question to write about. Understanding some of your fears or feelings about change can help you approach the changes that will occur in your life. Because, remember that life is change. Nothing can stay the same.

• What are some of the challenges that you have gone through? They may not have been the typical rites of passage, but they have affected you. Write about the hardest thing that has happened in your life. Include the facts of it, but also your feelings. What did you learn from it? How did you handle it? What helped you get through?

• Write about a “rite of passage”. We all have experiences that each of us share. Puberty. Graduations. Deaths. Births. Moving out on our own. What effect did each experience have on you? What obstacles did it hold for you? What did you learn? What helped you get through? Would you do anything differently now? Perhaps you have a different perspective on life at this point in time. Writing can help us connect to understanding. It can connect us to healing. It can connect us to ourselves.

So, go…Write On!

Martha Peaslee Levine, MD

Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Humanities

Penn State College of Medicine

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