By Lisa Alber
A few days ago, a friend sent me a recording of her pastor’s sermon. She thought I might be interested in the discussion about “liminal spaces.” In a world where the old normal is gone, yet we don’t know what the new normal will look like, we’re caught in a liminal space. A waiting place. Transition. Hopefully, transformation. This space is bewildering and disorienting and highly uncomfortable. Feelings of anxiety, crankiness, and demotivation are normal.
I’m not a religious person, but I like Richard Rohr’s description of the liminal space as “God’s waiting room.” Rohr is a Franciscan friar and writer. In this post, he wrote: “This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy.”
“Idealizing normalcy” is interesting, isn’t it? I’m assuming this means idealizing the old normal. We all know people who talk about good-old-days eras in their lives, whether that’s high school, or the Obama era, or even further back when things were “simple.” (Often code for before life got complicated with civil rights and equal rights and Black Lives Matters and Me Too and LGBTQIA and saving the environment and so on.)
Many of us are using this in-between time to ponder our lives. For thinking people, this strange place we’re in can lead to profound change.
I think about the folks affectionately (heh) known as “covidiots,” who refuse to wear masks, who go to rallies and packed bars, who protest their right to live free. (Sigh. No use telling these dummies that with our freedoms also comes civic responsibility.) I’m thinking these are people who hold on to the past, who avoid discomfort at all costs, who aren’t using this time to look within.
Whatever the new normal will be is coming at us at a rate of change that’s scary, and I suspect a lot of people aren’t going to adapt well. Discomfort is part of the dealio with the liminal space. I use my journal to face the discomfort, but then on other days I use Netflix to avoid the discomfort. A rollercoaster, but to be expected. I try not to beat myself up about the Netflix days. I also spend hours gardening, talking to friends, cuddling my pets. Coping mechanisms, and that’s OK.
Fiction is a huge solace for me. In fiction, we call the liminal space a “threshold.” This comes from the hero’s journey plot structure, which itself is inspired by Joseph Campbell’s HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES. Our stories would be pretty boring if we didn’t force our protagonists to grapple with transition and uncertainty and stress.
A while back, I landed on an oral storyteller’s website. (I wish I’d noted down the website so I could credit her now.) She described threshold moments as turning points in your life when you face a difficult decision or life event, or a surprising pivot that changes your life forever. Same goes for characters. We write stories about turning points. Perhaps living through a global/national turning point will help us with our stories. Like actors, we can mine what it feels like to live through this historic moment to deepen our characterizations.
Here’s an article on the in-between space that might interest you. Stay safe! xoxo, Lisa