One of my older sisters once dated a much older guy who had not yet come to terms with growing up. I remember nothing about him — except his nose hair. He was the Rapunzel of nose hair. I do believe you could have climbed it straight into his brain. I was never sure if I should suggest to him that perhaps a nose trim was in order. The relationship did not last long. As far as I know, he's locked in a tower, holding his nose out for Gothel to climb.
There are rites of passage in our lives that no amount of education can prepare you for. The other day, my youngest asked how moms manage not to choke when they give birth. When questioned, he explained that as the esophagus is so small and the baby is so big, surely the mother must choke while passing the child from her stomach out her mouth into the world. He reads a lot of Greek mythology. Cronus swallowed the gods. My son and I will very, very soon reach a rite of passage in conversation, one I assure you neither of us is ready for.
Some things just have to happen that we do not get prepared for. At retirement, you get the proverbial gold watch. But the more significant rite of passage is when you find yourself standing around and everyone else is looking to you. When you look over your shoulder to get advice, you realize there is no one behind you. You are the person everyone else relies upon.
It all happens slowly. After high school, college or graduate school, you get a diploma that signifies not just what you have finished, but that you are ready to start something new. There are otherwise no diplomas. Acquiring and paying off debt is about it. Receiving the deed from the mortgage company after paying off the house amounts to the next diploma.
Along the way, some things get easier, and a lot of things get harder. The worries in life often mount. Raising children, worrying about the children and worrying about the children's friends becomes an all-consuming enterprise. The struggles of marriage and staying committed to one another can get overwhelming, as can the health struggles in a family.
Eventually, the day will come when your parents part ways with this life and take up residence behind the veil of eternity. You find them lingering in thought and artifact, but not in any real way. Those you turned to for advice are no more, and you become the keeper of history and giver of advice in your family.
Some of this will change as more people refrain from having children. Concurrent with the childlessness of the modern age comes a Peter Pan syndrome: Unshackled from the responsibilities of raising a new generation, the childless try to keep from growing old.
But age and responsibility still have a way of creeping up on all of us. One day, staring in the mirror, you will realize your hair is either gray or nonexistent. If you are not careful, Gothel will try to climb your nose hair. The ear hair will sprout, and Andy Rooney will laugh from the afterlife about your eyebrows. Your face will either have wrinkles or be unnaturally pulled back in ways everyone else will pretend is normal while smirking at your refusal to accept gravity.
Through all of it, you will still have goals, ambition, frustration, joy and, hopefully, contentment. I am 43. Given my family history, I have just about as many days ahead of me as behind me. I still want to take my radio program into syndication. I want to pay off debts. I want to travel. I want my kids to do well and get into good colleges. I find a greater willingness to let go of old dreams, because I have greater dreams for my children and new aspirations for myself.
There are few guides for the rites of passage in life. There are no degrees. One day, we just realize we are in charge. So trim your nose hair. People are looking up to you, and no one is going to tell you.
To find out more about Erick Erickson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.