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I thought I was going to the Rites to help me over the transition from being a member of an educational structure, as I had been for the last 58 years (in different schools), and becoming an independent person. I had a nice image of being baptised into a new pattern of being. I thought I had done 'my stuff' and could now get on with something new. That was not what happened or at least not apparently.

The first jolt was when my council group chose me as their Stoker. That did not fit the image at all, it seemed more like going back to being a head teacher. I was shocked and felt inclined to refuse the offer but saw that it was what the group wanted and decided that it meant that I had to find a new way of being a leader. After all I do have some relevant skills and the fact that I am no longer in the institutional setting where I learned them does not mean I cannot use them. I think the group worked well but undoubtedly my personal success was on the third day. We were given guidance on what we should be doing in the day's session. It all sounded very sensible and appropriate so I began the session with asking everyone to say where they were – a normal check-in – and then intended to come in last with my interpretation of the ideas we had been given. Instead when the talking stick came round to me I held it in silence for a while and then passed it on. What followed was a deep and rich exchange far surpassing anything that my intended introduction would have been likely to stimulate. I do not suppose anyone noticed but for me it was fundamental and I can see that it could indeed lead to a new way of being – even if the route there is obscure and difficult.

The second surprise was on the wilderness day. I went there happily expecting to view my future life, ambitions and activity. That did not happen. I chose a nice Y shaped alder tree that had conveniently grown horizontally so that it provided three possible sitting places. So I settled down to enquire of my forbears who sat on the opposite branch what should happen next in my life. I am not normally in the habit of talking to the dead (or listening to them) but there was no doubt that that was what I was meant to do. After some comfortable conversations with my father, an aunt and a wonderful aged Quaker, I brought in my late wife (she died 19 years ago) thinking she would know me well enough to be able to be really helpful. She however had a different agenda and launched a tirade against me for all the ways I had failed her. She had always been forthright and nothing seemed to have changed! But she also had an innate sense of justice and we were able to work together on what were my failings and what were problems she brought from her home life. It took four hours and involved me removing my wedding ring, bringing in our family and going down on my knees – not exactly to her but in respect for the process of reconciliation. It was hugely moving – and still is (and utterly exhausting.)

So what happened for me on the Rites was much more of a rebalancing of the past than any sort of blueprint for the future and if there is an excuse for writing this other than the helpful process of recall and re-expressing it would be to suggest that perhaps for someone as old as me that is a valid and valuable thing to do. It certainly felt good to me and there is the opportunity for it to provide a foundation which will lead me into whatever further development may be round the corner.

[Contributed by Jim G., 2015]

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