Commentary Magazine

Article Preview

Coming of Age on the Carob Plantation

- Abstract

THE FIRST time I tried to come of age, my sinews turned to butter and my father threw me. Another try, the girl was a fundamental Baptist and swerved in time. So I quit trying, and just let it happen. But as soon as I’d made it, Maturity loomed before me like a mountain. What is this 20th-century Maturity that it should loom so before us as it did not in front of our ancestors? “In 1901,” says Ernest Jones in his biography of his master, “Freud, at the age of forty-five, had attained complete maturity, a consummation of development that few people really achieve.” A man-made mountain up which a 20th-century Sisyphus is expected to push the boulder of his life.

Do you suppose there really were tribes that would insert boys into one end of a rite and extract men from the other? (A Bar Mitzvah is meant to do that: “Today I am a man.” But nowadays among us, the ceremony is about as impressive as a wedding in a judge’s office in the county courthouse.) I don’t really doubt that there were actual people called Manus, any more than that there were actual people called saints. I’ve seen photographs of the one and thigh bones of the other. I am as willing to accept Margaret Mead’s word that she actually stayed with the Manus as James the Deacon’s word that he was in front of the basilica in Antioch with Nonnus, his bishop, and seven other bishops when Pelagia, the first of the dancers, came riding by on an ass. Yet I question the truth of their stories. On the whole, I go further with James than with Mead, because he tells a tale so much better than she does. (This excerpt from his narrative is taken from Helen Waddells’s The Desert Fathers.)

About the Author