Everything has changed!

[Another gem by Larry Pesavento. To read more by Larry, visit his website at the address at the bottom of this page. ]

Everything Has Changed!

Since the September tragedy, it sure seems that way. The American world seems to have taken on Alice In Wonderland proportions. What once could be counted on, including the American wonder of the world, seems to have convulsed and fallen. The wonderland has become the wander land of confused, frightened, angry but determined folk.

But has everything changed? Is the world so much different, now, than it was on 9/10. Surely for those who have lost loved ones, the world will never be the same. The sudden passing on of a loved one quakes through one's life to its very foundations. However, for the rest of us, has everything changed all that much?

Maybe, more likely, the veil has been taken away, the veil of cultural denial that surrounds our everyday reality. This veil has, more accurately, been violently ripped open, giving us a view of another reality that has been there all the time. Maybe we are now seeing the other side of our world that our culture has not been ready to see and face. Maybe, we have naively let ourselves feel that we are immune from the tragedies that other men and women around the world face every day. Maybe, like the Marine colonel says in A Few Good Men, we couldn't handle the truth.

This whole situation reminds me so much of the naive boy who is suddenly ripped from the familiarity of his village hut. This experience is so similar to what happens when a boy faces initiation. He is suddenly faced with another world that is dangerous beyond anything he has seen in the safe village. He is not protected anymore from seeing the other side of his emerging life as a man. For him everything has changed. Yet, to the elders, to those who see, the world is still the same.

I believe we, as a country, are in the middle of an initiatory crisis. I believe Robert Bly is right, as far as men in our culture are concerned. We are an early adolescent, sibling society. That is why everything feels like it is changing. We have not been initiated, so we have not been guided, past death, into the other half of our world. There are no such transformative experiences in our culture to prepare us for tragedies such as this. I am afraid that when faced with an involuntary initiatory crisis such as this, we, as American men, can too easily become angry, impulsive teens, obsessed with our image, hypervigilant about somehow being dissed, ready to violently prove the manhood we don't even have. I don't think I am the only one afraid of this.

I believe the rest of the world, now, is as much afraid of us, as compassionate toward us. The rest of the world, especially those whom we may be too uncomfortable to notice, wonder how we will handle our initiation. Will we act like narcissistic boys, ready to get even because our egos, and our bodies, have been bruised. Will we become bullies, because we can be, in order to anaesthetize our hurt. Will we use this 'just war' as an excuse to take whatever we want, because we're strong enough, and righteous enough, to do it. Because we are uninitiated men, we are dangerous men. The rest of the world, though it may be mostly uninitiated too, understands the danger. American men have the most power in the world. Adolescents are naively ready to use that power in service of their own narrow needs.

But what if we've attained a critical mass of men who are ready to be initiated, initiated by this crisis of cultural proportions. And what if we've reached a critical mass of elders who can guide these initiates through the wilderness of personal and political feelings that the crisis forces on us all. Surely, we were all terribly surprised one morning in September, and taken roughly from the comfort of the everyday perceptions of our village. Surely, we were forced to face death, in all its gruesome faces. Surely, we have had to ask ourselves what our life direction means now, once the veil has been taken away, and death, as change as well as mortality, can no longer be ignored.

Initiates from indigenous nations had to face death, death as loss of a former, carefree lifestyle, death as loss of a sense of protection from the realities of life outside a safe village. They also had to face death in the guise of a very uncertain future, a life with no insurance policy. But it was through facing death, including the death of their body, that the lessons were found and the transformation happened. Then everything did change! The adolescent died, the man was born.

Indigenous elders knew that the same gruesome place that held danger and death was also the place where their spiritual answers lay. The other side, beyond the village or the polis, was the place where deeper, human values could be found, beyond survival in the marketplace and the need for adolescent adulation. The initiated man lives with loss and death constantly, so he is ready to face death for a higher cause, rather than cause death he is not ready to face. The initiated man lives with no insurance policy, so he can risk insuring that his community remembers its highest values. The initiated man is a warrior. The other side has taught him which battles to risk dying for.

Uncle Sam, and the world, needs several initiated men. Uncle Sam needs you, if you have grown up. I am compelled to say this to men, since it is men who have their finger on the various triggers of war. I am compelled to say this as an older, trying to be an elder.

If enough men stand up to say that we will not get even, but we will consider the rest of the world's needs as much as our own, American men can transform the world. If enough American men say 'no' to a national narcissism that defends our lifestyle to the detriment of the rest of the world, then America will have grown up. If enough American men have compassion enough to suffer relatively little voluntarily, rather than causing others to suffer terribly a lot, then our cultural initiation will be accomplished.

The signs are there. How many men at the WTC faced death, so that others could live. How many passed into true manhood, as they also passed over. How many were willing to lose everything, for a higher value. How many men found their initiation that day?

The real question is how many of us have learned the lesson of this cultural initiation, especially from the men who learned their manhood that day, and will carry them on. And how many, who cannot bear initiation, have regressed to the potential international bully.

One thing seems sure. Terrorists are the epitome of the naive adolescent gone berserk. They are the equivalent of our American street gangs, with AK 47's and a different bible. They are righteous bullies, and should be a dark lesson to all of us men. They are where we could be, substituting M 16's and a more familiar bible, yelling that our fight is for God and freedom. The rest of the world, I believe, is afraid we will turn into more sophisticated terrorists. It takes initiated men to prove them wrong. It takes mature men to show that we have changed, and can change a world that we see clearly for the first time.

Christos: A Center for Men. (http://www.christoscenter.com)