Oct 16, 2014

Living in Liminal Time

We have all experienced them; those moments when we feel ourselves to be balanced on a threshold, behind us the familiar and before us the future.  No matter how much we may desire to leave the familiar behind for the opportunities of the future, it is uncharted, unknown and dark.  "Limen" is Latin, for threshold.  Thus, "liminal" or "liminality" comes to refer to the state of being at a threshold or transition point in our lives.

I don't know about you, but in my experience, such times of liminality are rarely managed gracefully. We may long for this threshold, we may desire the transition with everything in our being, but when we find ourselves actually balanced in that time, we freeze, we fight, we stumble and even tumble over that threshold with anything but composure and finesse.

As a midwife I have been privileged to be the guide for many such times.  Labor obviously poses a threshold for the infant being born, but it poses a time of transition for the mother as well.  Each contraction brings her closer and closer to the unknown.  When the baby slips out, the woman will be reborn herself.  She may become a mother for the first time, or she may become a mother of two, three or more and with each additional child, the universe of her life shifts.  She is not only absorbing that shift for herself, but she also will be the guide as her family shifts to accept the new life as well.

As a mother I have seen this threshold time as well.  A toddler is much less discrete as he makes his way through times of transition.  They embrace the change with gusto--and they let the whole world know when this transition does not go as they wish.  They want to crawl--but eat carpet instead.  They want to strike out for lands unknown--on their own two feet--and find themselves ignominiously on their face.  Everyone around knows that they are hammering at that threshold by their cries and that they have broken through by their smiles.  The foot stomping declarations of independence are born by times of liminality and demand to be appreciated and respected.

Our family has had several members choose hospice care in our home.  Having sat at the bedside by family members as they passed from life through the limen that is death is a humbling and sacred experience.  In each case that I have been blessed to participate, it has been accompanied by a deep and abiding grace.

I now find myself in my own time of liminality, standing at the threshold of changes that will shape the direction of my own life as well as that of my family and our farm.  In returning to school, I knew that there would be changes in our daily schedule and how the farm would function.  What I was not expecting was that becoming a student would change how I saw myself, my farm and even my family.  The decision for me to return to school was made as a family.  It was not an isolated consideration; it is part of a plan for the next stage of the farm.  We desire to share our story and what we have learned on a wider scale and returning to school to further refine my writing is a significant part of this plan.

I know where I have been, I have been fulfilled and satisfied by my role as a midwife, as a farmer, as a homeschooling mother.  I see where I am going.  I look forward to developing my role as a student and, ultimately, as a published writer.

What I am struggling to grasp is this time of transition.  It has proven very difficult to relinquish some of the control on the farm and especially to turn over responsibility for the homeschooling of our children.  Going to markets was, for several years, a huge part of my identity and a part that I cherished.  I cannot have it all.  I cannot give my all to being a successful student and continue going to every market.  I must learn to trust my adult children to manage the dairy and cheese making processes on their own.  I miss those things, the myriad events that shaped my days.  I miss the excitement in my children's eyes when they learn something new and I am jealous that it has been distilled down to being greeted at the door with a replica of a Viking ship crafted from tree bark and sticks and scraps of fabric.

And yet...I love having my own excitement of learning.  I am really enjoying the days when one of my older daughters comes to class with me and we discuss the lectures on the way home.  I am finding very precious--although somewhat fragile--my new identity not only as a student but as a writer.

So why do I find myself wanting to stomp my foot like the toddler over every bump in the road and every step taken further away from where I have been towards my new life?

I think it comes in the very definition of liminality.  Transitions are supposed to be hard-fought.  I know from an exquisitely intimate knowledge of labor that the hardest point of the process is even called "transition".  Even in those transitions that seem effortless, such as the graceful deaths that we have experienced in our own home, there were inner battles waged beforehand to gain acceptance of the limen that must be crossed alone.  It also comes in facing the unknown.  I thought I was prepared for the process of going to school.   What I did not know was how hard it would be to give up control and the intimate knowledge of every moment of my children's lives.  Now these facts must be faced.  I do not give up such things easily (hence the foot stomping!) and I no longer have the comfort of denial that it will be difficult.

Comfort comes in having been here before.  I have lived in liminal time.  There is no escaping the process of transition, of adjustment.  The challenge comes in learning to embrace the process of crossing over instead of simply grasping greedily for the destination.  I know that it will seem new, hard, frustrating and scary--until one day we look up and the new will no longer be new, but will instead simply be.

Until that time, we live in liminality.

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