I celebrated my second pandemic birthday this past week. A year ago the world was just starting to acknowledge the harsh reality of being shut down. Gary was working from home and I was essentially unemployed since teaching yoga was prohibited. Our days were mostly quiet, venturing out for short walks with the dogs and the occasional grocery run. I was grateful for the birthday cards, texts and phone calls from near and far. Gary made a homemade gift and we ordered take out for the first time since the pandemic started (it wasn’t very good). And so the year continued without much change. This year, however, there was a marked difference. Being fully vaccinated, we felt free to take more calculated risks. We enjoyed an outdoor celebration, eating cake with friends (also vaccinated), a lovely beach walk and even visited a restaurant for the first time in over 13 months (and were the only people sitting on the patio). What a treat! The week also included some outdoor, socially distanced visits with friends and a return to what has become a favorite birthday tradition, ice cream cake with my Syrian birthday buddies. What a difference a year can make!
I’ve thought many times this past year about liminal spaces. The term “limen” comes from the Latin for threshold; it is literally the threshold separating one space from another. In architecture, liminal spaces are defined as “the physical spaces between one destination and the next.” In anthropology, liminality is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.
Life is full of thresholds, some of our choosing, some not. I think about my experiences transitioning from fiancé to spouse, student to graduate. These were exciting and celebratory times, full of expectation and possibility. Some undesired and harder transitions include my parents divorce, leaving a job I once loved and the death of my father. I would characterize these liminal spaces as confusing, unsettling and doubt-filled.
In her book, Open the Door, Joyce Rupp says, “The term liminality indicates the uncomfortable ambiguity that develops when we are standing in the middle of a juncture of significant change. Liminality implies a disoriented vagueness in which we wander about searching for what seems out of reach. We lose a sense of clear identity, question what seems to be a dissolving relationship with our self” and perhaps others and the Divine.
Uncomfortable ambiguity? Check. Disoriented vagueness? Check. Wandering? Check. Searching? Check.
I’m fairly confident none of us would have willingly signed up for this past year, living through a global pandemic as well as all the other social, political and environmental issues we’ve been facing. Who would deliberately seek this kind of discomfort? The liminal space of the pandemic has been a long one. And while it is not over yet, it feels as though we are on the cusp of a new threshold. Whether the liminal space is one chosen or is thrust upon us, each provides an opportunity for growth, self-examination, reflection and ultimately transformation. Full of mystery and requiring trust, liminality challenges us to surrender to the process of change while being unsure of what the future holds.
Doris Klein offers some good advice when we find ourselves on a threshold:
When these times of mystery seem endless and our souls become weary of the stretch to believe, our prayer must be a simple request—that we be reminded that we have not been abandoned in this place to wander forever alone…for it is often a silent flicker in our heart, the tiny voice within, that whispers wordlessly, “You are always loved. You are never alone.”
May you be filled with peace as you remember those whispered words today.