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Sadly, much of our world seems to stay stuck in the first half of life. A story from Japan at the close of World War II illustrates how we might support ourselves and others in transition to the second half of life. If you have ever been to Japan, you will know that it is a country that is ritual rich, with a strong sense of the importance of symbol, aesthetic, and ceremony!
At the end of the war, some Japanese communities had the wisdom to understand that many of their returning soldiers were not fit or prepared to reenter civil, peaceful society. The veterans’ only identity for their formative years had been as a “loyal soldier” to their country. They needed a broader identity to rejoin their communities and families. You do not know how to be a father/mother or a brother/sister or a husband/wife with a soldier persona. They are completely different identities.
So the Japanese created a ceremony whereby a soldier was publicly thanked and praised for his service to the people. After the soldier had been profusely honored, an elder would stand and announce with authority: “The war is now over! The community needs you to let go of what has well served you and us up to now. But we now need you to return as a man, a father, a husband, and something beyond a soldier.”
We have no such rites of passage in our ritual-starved culture, and they are deeply needed to let go of a past marriage, a past identity, or a past failure. Otherwise, we just keep living, regretting, or trying to redo our past over and over again. That must be true of half of the people I have ever met!
I call this process “discharging your loyal soldier.” This kind of closure is much needed at the end of all major transitions in life. Because we have lost the sense of the need for such rites of passage, most people have no clear crossover to the second half of their own lives, and remain stuck and trapped in early identities and personas. I wonder if this is not one reason for the high incidence of “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” or PTSD, in our country today. Most are trying to live a human life with an unhealed soldier dragging them down.
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