Sunday, March 26, 2023

Liminal Space

 Liminal space is a word and a concept I ran across a couple of years ago. When I understood what it was I realized that there were times in my life when I had experienced liminal space and had no words or framework to process the experience.

In some ways, liminal space can refer to a place and how we experience it. It can also refer to a time period and life experience. It is time outside of time.

The death of someone close can push a person into a place where time feels stopped, where even if you are required by situation and events to function normally in an exterior way, it seems that life is on hold. Memories arise of times and events long past. The colors of ordinary life fade.

In the Bible, it is the retreat into the desert. The 40 days, a symbolic number in the Old Testament, not an exact count of days and nights. A time apart from the ordinary flow of life.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion is a modern example of the experience. Ms. Didion's book chronicles her grief following the sudden death of her husband. The suspended time of weeks and months where she thinks irrational thoughts and hopes, awash in memory, wanting to bring him back. The time fades slowly back to normal as she processes the loss and begins to resume her life.

My own experiences with this phenomena is not to fight it or try to move past it. Give it the time and respect it deserves. Look deeply at the loss, your grief, the regrets and guilt you feel. Take the time and space you need.

Decades ago, in what I see as my first adult experience with liminal space, the Catholic church in the town  I lived in was an old, very small, building and it remained unlocked. You could go in day or night. Attending service there was a completely different experience to being there alone. The silence and sense of timelessness was nearly overwhelming. I carried a camera with me once and here is one of the pictures I took trying to capture it on film.

I share this, not to focus on my losses, but to offer my thoughts and condolences to Borepatch. As he mourns his brother and faces the loss of Wolfgang in the coming days, I ask you all to keep him in your thoughts, whatever that might mean to you.

"Honor the space between no longer and not yet."

--Nancy Levin


Glen Filthie said...

Great piece of writing ASM. Instantly knew where you were going with it too. Great minds? HAR!

Now that I’m older I process loss and grief differently. I fear sometimes that I am getting too good at it…? Like I can almost watch my heart break through someone else’s eyes and be totally objective and dispassionate about it… but if I find myself in a liminal space I can’t deal with the enormity of it at all. I think there is such a thing as ‘liminal objects’ too.

Liminal spaces can be painful but therapeutic places…

McChuck said...

The one good thing I learned in Iraq is that in the Arabic language family (of which Hebrew is a member), the number 10 means "several" or "about a week, but anywhere between three days and three weeks". The number 40 means "lots" or "about a month, but anywhere between two weeks and two months".

STxAR said...

I've been there several times, too. I'm a stone in the creek of time. It's like you just quit moving as everything comes up from behind. The place where life swirls around and over you.

There are a few other places I've felt that. The Fannin Battlefield.... and the Goliad Massacre site. The graves of my people... and my life since April 2020.

These last years are difficult to describe. So much lost so quickly. I'll be praying for our brother, no doubt.

Eric Wilner said...

From the linked article: "In some primitive cultures, there are rites of passage to mark the transition of people from one state to another."
Why is this limited to primitive cultures? Over the past many years, I've increasingly come around to the position that every culture should have formal rites of passage. Getting a driver's license is the best we can manage?