Last week, I watched the movie Australia for the first time. I was captivated by a very spiritual little boy in the story named Nullah, who was caught between the world of his Aboriginal mother and not-yet known white father. Nullah reflects an abundance of childlike innocence and joy mixed with a deep understanding of pain and suffering even at the tender age of nine. Not too far into the movie, his grandfather, who is an Aboriginal elder named King George, tells him it is time to go on his walkabout to become a man. He is unable to go when King George first beckons him and throughout the movie, Nullah encounters all kinds of struggle, danger, and even good intentions that stand in the way of him taking this journey with his grandfather.
Like the walkabout for the Aboriginal culture, history is full of rites of passage experiences meant to help children cross the threshold from childhood to adulthood with purpose, discovery and celebration. But Western culture seems to have lost the essence of milestone events that help a young person take purposeful and symbolic steps toward maturity. Maybe it’s because the phenomenon of adolescence really only emerged in our world over the last century and its arrival has blurred our ability to help a young person recognize at what moment they actually become an adult. It’s almost as if the experiences that used to help shape a young person’s identity and purpose have endured an identity crisis of their own.
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