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Initiation by Accident

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This week was a big week in the Lines’ household.

Some of you will be familiar with my son Phoenix, through having followed his Rite of Passage Journey (as written about in my ebook Phoenix Rising) and you may have seen my post about his 18th birthday and Release Ceremony back in March.

I wanted to share a story from the long weekend just gone.

Early on Sunday morning Phoenix had a significant Rite of Passage moment – one that a lot of us will remember – our first major car accident.

I’ll start by letting you know that Phoenix is ok. Shaken, a sore neck – but nothing major.

Phoenix has always loved driving. Every step of getting his licence was taken at the first available moment. He sat the theory test for his Ls on his 16th birthday, and got his Ps on his 17th birthday and picked up his car the day after.

Choosing his car was quite a process – we spent a lot of time choosing the car that was right for him. A contributing factor was that we live in the Adelaide Hills – which is notorious for being a dangerous area for young drivers. 

I have taught in the hills for a couple of decades and sadly know first hand how deadly our hills roads can be – every couple of years a student or ex-student, from one of the two schools I taught at, would tragically lose their life on our roads. Hence, when it has come to helping my own children get a car – safety has been the most important factor – always choosing a vehicle with a 5 star ANCAP Safety Rating – and for Phoenix we chose a Ford Fiesta and my mind was eased somewhat knowing that he had 7 air bags if anything should go awry.

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Another important protective factor was having plenty of conversations about the hazards of driving in the hills, the bendy roads, inattentive drivers, wet, slippery roads in winter, wildlife on the roads, etc.

In recent weeks, however, I began having an intuition about Phoenix being out and about on the roads.

In the last couple of months he has taken up surfing and has been enjoying driving an hour down to the south coast where he can find a decent break and spend some time out in the water. He’s even taken to waking up early every now and then on a week day and headed down the coast, fitting in an hour of surfing before heading back to the hills in time for school.  

It was on these mornings – as he headed out the door at 5.30am – that I began to have a bit of a feeling about him driving the 120km round trip on hills and country roads early in the morning.  One way that I deal with my apprehension was asking him to send me a message once he’d arrived at his surf spot and again when he had got to school – partly so I had some peace of mind but equally as I felt it would be a reminder to him of the inherent dangers of hills/country driving.

Last weekend we had the Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend here in South Australia and with the intra-state travel bans being lifted people had the opportunity to holiday around the state. Phoenix had the offer to head down to the south east of SA with a good mate to hang out with his friend’s extended family and to spend some time surfing that beautiful coast.

As he hopped into his Ford on Friday night for the 4 hour drive I reminded him to be careful and to take breaks along the way.  I also suggested he might want to share the driving with his mate but Phoenix light-heartedly reminded me, “Dad – I’m the only one of my friends who can drive a manual! So it’ll be me all the way.” I reminded him to message me when he arrived and he went on his way. As he drove off I was glad that he would have his mate with him – I felt that the company would be helpful on the long drive.

At 7.05pm I phoned him to check in with how he was going and, like a good driver, he didn’t answer the phone but let it go through to his message bank. I received a call back from his mate a couple of minutes later letting me know all was well.  Then at 9.52 I received the ‘arrival text’ – “All safe and sound x”.

Fast forward to Sunday morning .  I awoke at about 8am to a heap of missed calls from Phoenix – so I immediately called him.

What I hadn’t seen was the text he sent me at 6.05am earlier in the morning.

“Just letting you know I’ve hit a kangaroo. Liam and I are fine. We’ve called the police. They’re on their way x”

Over the ensuing few hours, via a number of phone calls, the details of his morning became clearer.

He and his friend left for home at 5.50am that morning to be back in the hills for Phoenix to start work at 10am.  On a sweeping bend, about 15 mins into their journey, a kangaroo leapt across the road from right to left about 50m ahead and Phoenix slowed down to 90km/hr – only for the roo to suddenly do a complete turn-around to leap directly back in front of the car.

The airbags deployed and thank goodness the boys were ok.

From there I’m very proud of how Phoenix and his mate responded. They called the police, pushed their car to a safe place, pulled the roo off the road and waited for the emergency services to arrive. They were shocked and shaken but responded calmly and with good sense.

At this point of the story I want to admit my own disappointment at myself. In fact a part of the reason for writing this piece is to pass this info on to other parents.

You see, I awoke to half a dozen missed calls from Phoenix as I switch my phone to silent throughout the night, so that I might have a good night’s sleep.

I have previously had the thought go through my mind that, as we don’t have a landline, it would be difficult for the kids to get in touch – but I hadn’t actioned a solution to that.

So, on this particular occasion, when I wished I had been available for Phoenix in his time of need – I was fast asleep.  I can still feel that disappointment as I write this.

For those of you in a similar position – I did some research to ensure that something like this wouldn’t happen again and I’ve discovered that my iPhone has a Do Not Disturb function – I can set my phone to silence all calls except those from nominated numbers – so I can now sleep easily knowing that if my children, wife or parents call me overnight – the phone will ring. (You can check out an article about that here – https://www.theverge.com/2019/9/26/20883331/iphone-do-not-disturb-mode-exceptions-how-to).

At the accident site Phoenix was attended to by the Ambulance crew and the Country Fire Service and he got a lift back to the town and the car was transported too.

Later that day he arrived back in the hills and we’re now sorting insurance – and assuming the car is a write-off – looking at what he will get next.

When I was 24 I had a horrific car accident, where I was run off a country road and rolled my Mazda at 110 km/hr – but, like Phoenix, survived without even a scratch. It was a life changing moment for me – a Rite of Passage – and I remember having the strong feeling of having been spared – and wondering how and why I hadn’t died. My accident shaped how I drive and also affected how I live.

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I would never wish a serious car accident upon anyone – but in recent days I have been feeling grateful for both my car accident and Phoenix’s experience.

Societies have initiated their youth into adulthood for millennia – and there have been a number of understandings that the elders have hoped the youth would learn through the process – some of these involving the concepts of power and control.  

Richard Rohr suggests in his book ‘Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation’ (2004) there are five lessons that male initiation teaches with three of them being ‘Life is hard’, ‘You are not in control’ and ‘You are going to die’. Rohr comments that these are truths that young men in every society need to learn before they can be mature, contributing members of a healthy community. 

On a couple of levels Phoenix’s experience is a reminder of these three truths which we had talked about in his Rite of Passage Journey back in 2017 and we have used his recent accident to revisit these. 

Life is hard.  Difficult things will happen throughout our lives, it’s how we respond and rebound that is important. Rohr says “If you can be convinced of this (Life is difficult) early in life and not waste time trying to avoid it or making it easy for yourself, you will ironically have much less useless suffering in the long run.” An accident and the aftermath of dealing with the hardships that come as a result are an opportunity to reflect on this truth.

You are not in control –  This acknowledgement is partly about ego, about accepting that we are not ‘all-powerful’, and about being open to being led.  Rohr notes that “You must get through that most difficult step of admitting that you are powerless before you can find your true power.”  Both my and Phoenix’s accidents were caused by factors out of our control and in both instances we were very lucky not to have been severely injured – we are not in control.

You are going to die.  An understanding and experience of mortality can often be a life-changer.  As Steve Biddulph notes when explaining Rohr’s five truths in ‘The New Manhood’ (2010), “If it was utterly clear to you in every fibre that your life might end at any time, how would it change the way you live?  If you realised that your time in this world was short, might it change what you attempt to do with that time?”  Often significant accidents like Phoenix and I had can lead to reflections on mortality, which then lead to a different way of seeing life and indeed of being alive.

Initiations throughout history were intended to expose young people to these truths via ritual and challenge – but in the absence of these in today’s world – how do our youths learn?

Again, Richard Rohr says it best, “Remembering that initiation rites attempted to give a young man the essential life messages early, even before he was fully ready to hear them, we can see such rights universally tried to prepare a young man for what I call the great defeat, the necessary recognition that you are not really running the show, and any attempt to run it will ruin it. The intense self-will of the autonomous ego must eventually be disillusioned with itself.

As I mentioned earlier, whilst I would never wish a serious accident upon anyone, in the absence of our society offering a carefully constructed Rite of Passage experience, if it could be orchestrated that every young person went through an experience like that which Phoenix and I went through in our youth, one in which we faced death but survived without injury, then perhaps we might find young people understanding the truths of adulthood a little earlier.

It’s usually the case that life ends up initiating us – but sadly, not everyone has wise elders alongside them – helping make sense of the situation and guiding the process so the learning happens.

Finally, I wanted to acknowledge the huge letting go that exists for us as parents as our children step into adulthood.

As some of you will remember it was less than 3 months ago that we held Phoenix’s Release Ceremony, celebrating his 18th birthday and his step into legal adulthood. 

A part of that process was taking a step back and allowing him to claim his adult life and with that comes the mistakes and difficulties of adulthood.

It is a challenge to allow our own children to leave the nest – but if we have helped them develop responsibility, resilience, respect and resourcefulness throughout their childhood – we can trust that the time is right for them to spread their wings.

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