Metamorphosis and Adolescence
Every beautiful (and not so beautiful) butterfly must go through the torturous process of metamorphosis. Likewise, every adult human had to navigate the often traumatic, troublesome, sometimes terrifying labyrinth of teenagedom. Lori Evans, Bio.’79, recently invested six weeks of her time, talent and treasure in a group teens, introducing them to the dramatic world of William Shakespeare. Her mentor, Kevin Coleman, wrote one of the most concise expository essays on adolescence that I have read. In three brief paragraphs he encapsulates many of the aims, goals, objectives, hopes and dreams of Biodesign students who “only went out for a walk and discovered that going out was really going in.”
“Adolescence itself is often a time of CRISIS. As such, it is a time of both danger and opportunity. Adolescence is a time that can be extremely confusing, emotionally intense, terrifying, dangerous and desperate; numbing, rife with poor judgment and mistakes, fraught with hopelessness, resignation and despair. It can be a time of ecstasy, of ‘true love’, deep friendship, passionate expression and harrowing betrayal. Whatever can be said, adolescence is all that and more; it burns hotter and freezes colder. And it can all happen in the course of 1 day.
Adolescence is itself a kind of RENAISSANCE. It is a time of unparalleled potential to develop intellectually, emotionally, physically, sexually, spiritually, socially, psychologically, and existentially. When adventures that are personally meaningful are absent or overlooked or un-attempted, or when the ability to attempt to create them is not developed or supported, these potentials can atrophy (diminish, become dreary, fearful or hopeless, retreat into resignation, rot). Conversely, these potentials can go postal, ‘act out’, or seek expression in unfulfilling, inappropriate-even extremely destructive ways.
Adolescence needs RITES OF PASSAGE. It needs those intensely experienced, dangerous moments when we transition from child to adult: those peak moments that are: 1) personally meaningful, 2) esteemed by the surrounding culture and 3) risk real or imagined death. Adolescence is a time of needing-to-be-tested in new ways, more extreme ways. When cultural, social, familial or interpersonal testing opportunities are not personally meaningful, or rightly esteemed by others, or intense enough, adolescents will often seek out or create others that are, however reckless, irresponsible or dangerous. Rights of passage are why and how we grow up.”
Coleman’s terse, yet powerful, essay conjured up two immediate reflections. First, I am amazed that I survived adolescence. Two of my high school buddies were killed in a horrifying car crash. That could have been me several times. But there were countless other times when I could have ended up in jail, nothing felonious, but definitely worthy of a “time out” in the “the cooler.”
The other is much more current. John Muir deeply admired RW Emerson. However, when he came to visit Muir at Yosemite, he refused to sleep outside for even one night. Emerson was 72 years and his entourage felt he would risk catching a cold or pneumonia. As Emerson left Yosemite, Muir was deeply saddened and wondered how someone could write so profoundly about nature from his office in Concord Massachusetts. I had the same question about Coleman. I spent 24 years of learning about adolescents by interacting with them in the wilderness so how could he learn so much about them by “playing” around with them in dramatic presentations. It was a delightfully humbling revelation.