Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Coming of Age

A favorite film is the Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (released in 1974) based on a 1959 novel by the famous Canadian author Mordecai Richler. It stars a young Richard Dreyfus as the protagonist Duddy. I love the film for several reasons, including the settings: Montreal, the Laurentian Mountains of Northern Quebec, and the Adirondack region of Upstate New York— all part of Ellie and my life in the early 1970s. Ellie and I saw the film in a Montreal theater with patrons intimately familiar with the places depicted. To see a film in the environs where it was shot is always an electric communal experience.

The story is a humorous, but poignant coming of age tale, in literature what is known as a bildungsroman. Duddy Kravitz is a young man on the make, who’s willing to shave morality for money time and again, and, as a result, reaps the sorry consequences. One of the subplots involves a scheme he and a blacklisted American filmmaker have to document bar mitzvahs for wealthy families. Their attempt to create an arty chronicle of one young boy’s ceremony mixes the actual bar mitzvah with cuts from African ceremonies, including incongruous drum beating, frenzied dancing, and images of circumcision. The obvious intentions of this little documentary within the bildungsroman were to universalize coming of age stories.

Coming of age rites are universal, though in the contemporary American culture coming of age is a long and vague process with a number of markers throughout adolescent and early adulthood. (Some brain scientists contend that brain development doesn’t fully take place until the mid-20s.) Puberty, high school, drivers license, college, ages 18 and 21 are among the markers on the road to full adulthood in our culture and times.

Religion has long observed a transition from youth to adulthood through ceremonies. In Christian traditions, the ceremony is called confirmation, when the gifts of the Holy Spirit are bestowed and full membership in the church follows. In Jewish tradition, the ceremony of bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah, signify that 13 year old boys and 12 year old girls become fully responsible for their actions.

In recent years, Pam has devised a coming of age program for our youth on the cusp of adolescence that asks of the youth and their families their respectful and engaged attendance. It is a great a great success and a tradition that continues to grow.

Being UUs, we have our own sense of what the coming of age program is about. It includes the notions of individual worth and dignity, relationships across the generations (each youth has an adult mentor), a group retreat something like a vision quest, and a community celebration—this service in which the youth offer their faith statements. Now we also extend the choice of church membership.

The following meditation of mine speaks to our youth, lifting up our collective intentions and hopes:


Young man,

Young woman,

Life turns for you.

This is a magic time,

a mythic passage,

In your becoming.

We who welcome you,

None of us is too old

So as to have forgotten

--the mystery of not


--the delight of first


--the impatience to hurry

what will come next

--the terrible wonderfulness

of the changes.

Don’t forget.

We remember.

And with memory and hope

We welcome you,

Knowing that what you may become

Is a bud

Bursting into a flower

Just now.

To you,

young man,

To you,

young woman,

We wish

all the mystery

all the moments,

all the changes

That are yours.

We can’t give them;

For they are yours

To take!

[from Coming of Age: A Treasury of Poems, Quotations, and Readings for Growing Up, collected by Edward Searl]

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