When You Find Yourself in Liminal Space, Don’t Just Do Something; Stand There!

A friend got the phone call from his wife while he was away on business. She had moved out of their home ‘for just a few months, for some time to think.’ My friend panicked, wondered if it meant ‘forever’, and feared to return home. What would it feel like to walk in the door and see that ‘home’ was missing? Some furniture would be gone, and some kitchen appliances, bathroom towels, her clothing…her. Their ‘home’ had, at least for now, disappeared. He kept imagining being unable to cross the threshold.

Liminal space is that limbo-like psychological time and place between worlds; between what we know, and what we will know next. It’s disorienting and disruptive and our natural urge is to get out of it by looking past it, by demanding answers, an escape from not-knowing into the comfort of the known again. Except, the known is unavailable; it hasn’t happened yet.

‘Liminal’ comes from Latin for ‘threshold.’ We cross them all the time: smiling at a stranger we hadn’t yet seen a second ago, passing them, and not seeing them ever again. What did, or didn’t happen on the threshold, in that smile of acknowledgement? Thresholds are spaces we pass through on our way to and from. Jews post a reminder of the spiritual, even emotional and psychological change in mood we experience between outside and inside, from one room to another, by use of a ‘mezuzah,’ an ornamental container holding a scroll containing a reminder of what to do at gateways: bless your children, teach and model how to live Jewishly in the world. Jesus crossed from Good Friday to Easter Sunday via Holy Saturday: a liminal space. Catholic creed holds Jesus descended into Hell during that time. Why did He dwell there for a time between the world of death and resurrection?

I had a suggestion for my friend: When standing at the threshold, pause, with hand on the doorknob. Maybe place the other hand flat against the door. Breathe. Prepare to face the new facts of things, and notice, but do not cling to, the new feelings. Then go upstairs and re-arrange the bedroom. For a few months, at least.

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