Revisiting Thoughts on Liminal Space

After 9-11 life was totally altered, for all of us. As a writer, I sat and stared at my manuscript wondering if anyone would ever read a novel again. My husband had been traveling—not to New York, but to Connecticut. When he finally got home late on Friday, there was relief. But normality escaped us. It escaped everyone.

Then in those next few days, a friend offered me some insight. It came in the words of Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest whose teaching is like that of the first St. Francis: empty yourself, be compassionate of others, especially those that are socially marginalized. Okay. How do I do that when I am angry and confused. 

TWENTY YEARS LATER 

And though time has passed, many of the same questions circle around us. So today, let me offer this…because the words that Father Rohr used to explain liminal space, will always be relevant and helpful when we find ourselves full of questions.

THE DEFINITION 

Liminal Space is:  a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be… It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else… It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…or do anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing. 
- Richard Rohr

HOW WE REACT: COVID 19 and LIMINAL SPACE 

Many of us once again feel this terrible cloud of unknowing. Some of us are angry that our lives have suddenly changed, that we are struggling with loss, death, an alteration in social habits like wearing a mask, avoiding closeness to strangers, having to prove we are vaccinated…the list is long.

Families have been pulled apart, because some refuse to be vaccinated. Why? There are many excuses, some of which I find hard to accept when my generation and the generations of my children began with a series of vaccinations to protect them from illnesses that were not only inconvenient (chicken pox) but could also lead to blindness and deafness in their future children, German measles (rubella), and sterility in males (mumps). So it makes no sense to risk death, damage to one’s lungs, having to be intubated etc etc when many of the refuse-nicks started out their lives being vaccinated. And all they have to do now is WEAR A MASK. 

SO ARE WE AGAIN LIVING IN LIMINAL SPACE?

Let’s look at that definition again. “You have left the tried and true, the familiar, but have not been able to replace it with anything else. Being under a terrible cloud of unknowing.”

SUGGESTIONS…

Having been a healthcare worker, the first thing I would suggest is to work against that vacuum, that feeling of unknowing. Examine questions–can we go out; will we be safe; will my children be safe and still get a good education; can I go back to work instead of working from home? will life ever be normal again? YES TO ALL THESE QUESTIONS. IF YOU ACCEPT THIS NEW REALITY AND GET VACCINATED–and during this interim time, WEAR A MASK.   

THOUGH LIMINAL SPACE IS ONGOING… we must accept it. The feelings that are part of liminal space are common to daily living. We are always waiting for something: a job, a pregnancy, a graduation, a diagnosis, an acceptance letter, even a death; or a yes from someone whose yes might change our lives, and until we get that yes, we feel like someone else is holding the rest of our lives in his or her hands. IT’S NOT EASY. Liminal space brings frustration, depression. We hate living under that cloud of unknowing.

Thus we must look for the good news. It was true post-9-11, that we saw, heard and felt the warmth, love, understanding and giving of many Americans who did whatever they could to help those who had lost someone. Later it was young men and women who joined our volunteer army, feeling that was the best way to give.

Certainly liminal space always challenges us. We are rarely free of the unknowing—because we are mortal and have no knowledge of the date of our demise. That’s a given. But it can be used to power our love of self (taking care of our bodies) and love of those we live and work with (getting vaccinated so that we don’t get sick and infect others.) For how much better to offer understanding, honesty and friendship on a daily basis—because who really knows what the next hour will bring.

You’ll find examples every day of folks who have conquered the awful questioning of liminal space: 

the cancer patient who goes into remission and dedicates her time to helping other patients; the teacher who takes extra time to work with the very student who upsets his classroom; the doctor or nurse who enters the clinic every day, even when Covid death stats are rising; the cop who does all he can to make certain-sure before using deadly force; the mother, father, neighbor, citizen who listens and evaluates any situation before making a judgment or rising to anger.

THE CITIZEN WHO FINALLY REALIZES THAT GETTING VACCINATED IS GOOD FOR HIM/HER BUT IS ALSO A WAY TO GIVE BACK TO THIS GREAT COUNTRY. 

After 9-11 Richard Rohr reminded us that both Christian and Muslim mystics preferred the language of darkness. That is: they were most at home in the realm of not-knowing. In such darkness, Rohr writes, things are more spacious and open to creative response. We are more open to letting in God or blessed, positive thoughts–just like the cancer patient who is grateful for every day and turns darkness into light.

This from the Persian mystic Hafiz:

Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly.

Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you

As few human or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight has made my eyes so soft.

My voice so tender, my need of God, absolutely clear.

In this time of questioning, where we find ourselves often divided, even from friends and loved ones who feel and think differently than we do, try to accept and live in the cloud of unknowing. Try to move a bit closer to the other side or try to find something they share with you. It can be very challenging and just downright hard. But remember, you are both in liminal space, not truly knowing all. And if you have time: watch the film The Hundred-Foot Journey which underlines that people and cultures that are vastly different can cross the threshold and come to a place were there is not only knowing, but sharing and love.

Truly, we have no choice but to live on the threshold, uncertain of which path to take. We exist in this liminal space, a new normal that we must accept and work with so the cloud of unknowing will be transformed into one of understanding.

Thanks always to Father Richard Rohr and the art of Charlie Bowater 

Celebrating the Positive

Celebrating the Positive

 

 

HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY, Dear Reader. And when you read this, I hope you will feel some sense of peace and some happiness.

I’m not counting on OUT AND OUT JOY! That’s a big hope. It’s a word I use to describe my wedding day, the birth of my children and grandchildren.

But this year of 2021, we have certainly BEEN THROUGH IT.

Some of you have lost family to Covid19. Many of your know neighbors, work partners and friends of friends who have lost someone. And loss has trickled down: loss of jobs; loss of investments (that trip you couldn’t take); loss of friendships, because of the turmoil in our government, the splitting apart of relationships because “I don’t need to be vaccinated.” Well, if you are going to be around me and my family, YES YOU DO.

I can deal with this stuff as it relates directly to me. But I get in the major “MOTHER BEAR” mode when I think that people against the vaccine, for whatever reason, might infect MY FAMILY. THAT MAKES ME CRAZY.

So on this FOURTH OF JULY weekend, I am wishing your health and safety, joy in family and friends. I also support each and everyone of you who decides to CHANGE IT UP. Maybe that family gathering isn’t for you this year. Maybe you are against fireworks, especially if they could cause fires in our “getting too warm” climate.

The one thing I might suggest, especially if you will be staying home this 4th of July: that you reach out to your neighbor. You know the one. He always helps carry in a heavy package, sometimes shovels your walk or let’s you know your car has a flat tire; she is kind to your children, arranges play dates, abides by your rules as to sweets and is always there when you need a friend or a mother, because yours lives miles away. It is that community that is built from house to house, street to street. It is that community that will do much to heal our American wounds.

Small starts are good. They will make each of us better. They will heal us.

Peace, Everyone, and a Happy Fourth of July.

A Variety of Thoughts in the Time of Covid 19

A Variety of Thoughts in the Time of Covid 19

I’m on Twitter. I like it there. If I am angry, I say so. People who are also angry, or simply agree with me, follow me. It’s virtual hand holding. Oh, I’ve had to block folks. They’d be the ones to tell me to shut up or worse. There were a few that threatened me. But I’ve decided to defend what I believe in, and I’m not silent concerning those things. Back in California, I walked out of a gathering, because the people there, in my opinion, had hardened their hearts.

Now there is Covid19–and ironically, it can bring people together. Last night a woman tweeted that her mother had died. I wrote back: So sorry. I have thanked God many times that my mother, the person who gave me more than I could every repay, died in 2013. TRUTH.

WORKING AT HOME

My mother Jinni was tireless. But now, she reminds me not to be tireless. To take care of myself and my family. To fight back at Covid. Jinni would. When I yearn for a nap, I think of her.

Jinni would sometimes walk into our living room and “collapse”, as she would say, on the dark green couch, falling instantly to sleep for five minutes or ten.

I often watched her as she struggled to get up and back to it. (My mother worked in our dining room, typing insurance policies to pay the bills.) At some point, I began to understand that she longed to have a reason to just relax, to lie there and do nothing. But for a widow with three children to raise, that reason never came. And at the end of the day, when she was “processing” what she had typed, pulling carbons apart and stamping paper and using paper clips, she would take my face in her carbon-smudged finger and tenderly kiss me.

How could I have become anything but active, when I had a mother who labored at home keeping us all perfectly safe and healthy, who settled us in school, and then one day put on high heels and nylons and went downtown to work.

Jinni might be comfortable with COVID. She’d be working at home again.

SHEDDING LIGHT ON THIS TIME

Now that many of us are home most of the time, we need to focus on things that lift the spirit: warmth, comfort, cleanliness—and also the stamp of our own individual personality. These are essential.

Our rooms call out to us and we decide to make some choices. A throw or pillow add color to a cloudy day. Books, plates and photographs provide comfort, help us decide that we are okay. We will be okay. And as we face the darker seasons, light is essential, enhances where we live. The blocks of sunlight on the floor; the rocking chair that creaks, because it was grandmother’s. The shadows, the lamplight, when daylight departs. If we have to BE HOME, let’s make it cozy, cheerful, comfortable.

TELEVISION

Many bloggers will alert you to things to watch on television. That’s awesome. And most nights that is what my husband and I do—currently watching THE CROWN. And also the news, Rachel Maddow. I cannot begin to say how her finally being back, telling us upfront, how she dealt with her partner Susan having Covid, and almost dying—how hard that was for Rachel to tell us, how that was for us to watch. The pain in her voice, her face. Especially since Rachel has been a constant presence, warning us, urging us to be careful. She is part of why so many people are still alive, so many doctors and nurses finally got the PPE that they needed.

READING

And there is always reading. On Sunday we get both the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. We could read all day! And when we moved, almost all of our books came with us. Books are life.

From Lauren Grodstein’s A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY

“We were standing looking out on a beautiful April evening. The magnolia in the yard was cloaked in blossoms, and the rabbits that lived under the purple hydrangeas were foraging in the fading daylight. The air in the room smelled heavy with food and sweat and burning wax and Lysol and clean linen. Steve didn’t cry, didn’t speak, just held both my hands in his own. His grief was stark and monstrous behind his thick, gentle glasses. The room was silent.”

AND FINALLY: THIS IS FOR ANYONE WHO HAS EVER BEEN A LABOR AND DELIVERY RN 

From Gentle Reminder by Ray Spooner  

Go placidly amid the laboring patients and remember what peace there may be in coffee breaks. As far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with the unit secretary; for she controls everything…Enjoy each delivery as if it were your first…You are a labor and delivery nurse, no less than the obstetricians and the midwives; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe will fall apart as soon as you sign out. Therefore, be at peace with God…and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of shift change, keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and popcorn trodden into the carpet, this is still a beautiful unit. Be careful. Strive to be happy, and don’t go home with the narc keys in your pocket.