Photography by Matt Wyatt

The Next Level

This week I had the wonderful opportunity to take a short vacation in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Among the trees painted with fall colors, I took in the sound of the rushing waters of Tahquanomen Falls, visited Whitefish Point where the Edmund Fitzgerald was swallowed by Lake Superior and learned about the Soo Locks of Sault Sainte Marie.

The locks certainly didn’t possess as much natural beauty as some of the other sites I visited. In Sault Ste Marie orange leaves and vast sky gave way to industrialization, steel mills and pollution. Yet, everything has beauty if you look into it enough and the Soo Locks provide for us a beautiful metaphor.

If you don’t know, the Soo Locks exist because the Saint Mary’s River, the only passage between Lake Huron and Lake Superior, includes a 21 foot change in depth thus creating very dangerous rapids. Before the locks were constructed, boats and canoes would have to be portaged by local Native Americans to the other side, a grueling two month long process.

The process now is simple. Essentially, when a ship or boat goes into the locks, the water level changes from where they were to where they are going. So, for example, if you are coming from the Saint Mary’s River and going into Lake Superior, you watch and wait as the water level in the canal rises, the gates open and you suddenly are at the same level as your destination. The opposite happens for those traveling from Lake Superior into the St Mary’s River; the water level is lowered and you now match the level at the Saint Mary’s river. This invention not only saved ships from potential damage and sailors from injury and death but it also turned a two month process into a 20 minute wait.

The idea is simple, but the problem it helps to solve is priceless.

Adolescence is a lot like a change in water levels. The transition from child to adult can be one of rapids, rocks, and waves and many get knocked off the boat along the way. Yet, just on the other side of the rapids, the waters are smooth. Sure, storms may still rise and wrecks can still happen, but lighthouses along the way help to guide ships to safe harbors.

Youth workers are like locks and lighthouses. No, we can’t turn a 10 year process into a 20 minute wait and we can’t always get rid of all the rocks and waves along the way. We can however, spend time with teenagers, invest in them and make them a priority. We can help provide safe passage as they make their way to the next level in life. Even after they have made it, older adults can still be dedicated lighthouses for young adults, always standing by should a storm occur.

Adolescence is a journey, a much safer one with caring adults in the picture, a treacherous  waterfall drop without.



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