Sunday, October 26, 2014
Rites of Passage, Part II
It’s been almost a year since my original post about rites of passage (look, I used the proper form of the word, this time). In the time bygone, I have had a few experiences that I think allow me to now compose part two.
I’ll start with this summer, when I was employed as a miner in a limestone quarry. Whilst working in this mine, I was subjected to not hazing or purposefully instituted rites of passage in so many words, but to the stereotypical blue-collar “Fucking New Guy” (FNG) stuff. Let me preface what I’m about to say; I don’t come from some posh white-collar upbringing, I was raised doing farm work, earning my keep at home, and hunting because we needed meat, not because I had a new $12,000 shotgun that daddy bought me – my point is that working in a blue-collar environment was nothing new to me. Back to the quarry; as the FNG, I unfailingly drew the most undesirable job: driving a haul truck. Don’t get me wrong, there aren’t too many engrossingly interesting jobs in a limestone quarry, but driving a haul truck in a half mile long semi-circle for ten hours straight for six days a week is the pinnacle or boredom. So, as the new guy, I was relegated to doing this for the duration of my employment (don’t mistake this for ingratitude, because I’m very grateful to have had the job, money, and experience). However, working in this quarry provided me with opportunities not only to learn how this industry operates, at least one a base level, it got me a lifelong certification as a miner in the state of Virginia, a basic knowledge of how to operate a few different pieces of equipment, improved my driving skills immensely, and provided me a chance to work with down to earth men. I was never made fun of or joked about any more than the new guy on any job site and I was never made to do anything dangerous or embarrassing (there isn’t any room for these types of fuck fuck games in a mine), but I knew that the jovial shit talking and joking radio transmissions were all part of being the new guy and earning a place on the quarry crew.
On another level, I began this summer my second year at VMI. A 180 from last year, I found myself in a position of power and influence as a member of the cadre in charge of preparing and training the newly arrived rats. Firstly, let me say that the cadre with whom I worked displayed nothing but the utmost professionalism and expertise in their methods. As I went through the process of Hell Week, this time on the other side, I thought back to my own experience as a rat; methods I thought helped me learn, things that I thought were impractical, etc. and used this tool box I’d accrued over the past year to make my own training more effective. Now, my Hell Week was no walk in the park, by any means, but there was never a moment that was easy or even pleasant, and I made sure, as a member of cadre, that this year’s rat mass had the same experience of constant physical and mental strain while also achieving basic aptitude in the ways of a cadet. They were never hazed, they were never needlessly embarrassed, they were never made to do anything dangerous (these things are not the cadre’s job), but the whole ordeal represents one of the most rigorous rites of passage in the US higher education system.
Now that I’ve been on the receiving and delivering ends of these rites of passage in several settings, I think that yes, society is certainly getting softer (something I think needs desperately to be remedied), but the fact that rites of passage still exist in mundane places like a work site, that young men still want to come to such a challenging place as this to test their mettle, and the fact that people like me continue to insure that the FNG’s get the same tough and testing experiences as we had says that rites of passage are not dead, they’re just sick, and society needs to provide the medicine.