Liminal Space

The Zen saying, “Words are the fog one has to see through” is worth contemplating.  I feel so, anyway.

For years I’ve welcomed a “word of the year,” a word or phrase that slowly settles into my being and grows into a conscious awareness of a personal message. I wish I’d kept a list. Some words I can easily recall, but others have faded as they fulfilled their purpose and moved on.

This year’s word was a puzzlement. In fact, I argued for a short time that it was entirely too vague to be of any purpose or significance. What was I supposed to do with the word liminality? 

Perhaps you remember my backyard visitor?

Multiple sources reference the magnificent birds as expressions of “liminality,” stalking their prey with near perfect stillness, then quickly striking before effortlessly taking flight.

In mythology, liminality or liminal time is referenced as heroes move through challenges or rites of passage. A liminal deity is a god or goddess who presides over thresholds, gates or doorways.

Seemed an unlikely word for me, until I began to see through the fog.

I’ve had a very difficult time blogging for the last month or so as someone very dear to me, and to our family, began to spend more and more time in the hospital. As my dear friend V. says, “Stupid Cancer!”

His life energy is thinning and so is the threshold between what we see clearly and what’s waiting.  He, of course, and we who love him and are attentive to the fragility of life, have a metaphysical connection to that same liminal space.

Just prior to this most recent hospitalization I had been thinking about a book I read decades ago, Judith Viorst’s “Necessary Losses.” I don’t recall why it so matched my need at the time, but it still speaks to me.

I went looking for my copy and couldn’t find it. I’m sure it is “out on loan” and never returned.  But lucky me!

Last month Judith Viorst appeared at a local book signing to herald her latest book, “Nearing 90.” I had to go.

She’s a grand 88 years old. And continues to speak, and write poetry, with such an intuitive knowing.

I was able to tell her how much her books have meant to me. She seemed pleased and I relished just the moment or two of conversation.

The book explores many themes of grief and mourning, aging and relationships, “love, loss and letting go.” I’m reading it again.

Liminal space–the time between the “what was” and the “next.”

That’s every day for each of us, isn’t it? I have to ask myself why it takes great love or great loss for me to tune into the mystery of liminal space. That’s also probably true for most of us.

I think my egret was a divine gift, don’t you?

Grief and peace can, and do, co-exist.

In a world of grief and pain,  flowers bloom–even then.

Kobayashi Issa–1763-1828








39 thoughts on “Liminal Space

  1. Deep post … but worthy to ponder. I imagine writing this was good for you – although tears probably accompanied the process. Peace and strength to you for your losses and may pleasant memories make you smile.

  2. A beautiful post, Debra. Loved the zen expression at the beginning, the quote at the ending, and the thoughts you’ve woven between the two.

    So nice that you had a chance to meet and chat with Judith Viorst.

    • Thank you, Nancy. I was SO pleased to have met Judith Viorst. At 88 she is as sharp as they come, physically strong, clever and wise and a great example of aging. I feel honored to have met her! 🙂

    • I’m absolutely “stuck” on this word. Once it took hold in my mind, I’m now hearing it or reading it almost daily. I’m glad you, too, find it interesting. Thank you, Andrew.

  3. An interesting word that surely also describes the moment we are in all the time… on the edge of the ‘next’ moment. Yes, grief and peace co-exist, the latter giving comfort. I hope your friend does not have to suffer too much Debra.

    • I have so many times been on the “edge” of some thought or experience that feels a little mysterious, and while waiting and I’ve embraced liminality as a friend. Suddenly I can’t get enough of this word. And thank you for your kind thoughts regarding our loved one. This is indeed a very difficult time.

  4. This is a beautiful post. Which goes to show that beauty can bloom in sorrow. I’m sorry for your friend’s suffering Debra. Something was watching out for you to put Ms. Viorst in your path when you needed her.

  5. Sometimes I have no problem translating my feelings into words. This is NOT one of those times, as I sit here eyes brimming. Such a beautiful post, Debra. I, too, hope your friend will not suffer too much.

    • Oh dear Karen! Thank you so much for sharing that my words hit a sensitive chord with you. We all have had those “liminal space” experiences, and some are more challenging and difficult than others. I really appreciate your kind words and thoughts, my friend. It is indeed hard to see anyone we love struggle with pain, isn’t it!

  6. We call it the space in between. In music, it is the room in between the notes. In my art it is breathing room. That is important to the understanding the power of the image or note.

  7. First of all, I am very sorry to read about what has happened to your friend. No words can express what it must mean for you. Then I want to thank you for this deeply touching post on so many levels. I didn’t even know what liminality means and none of my reference books could say anything about the word. But you made me see through the fog and, yes, I think your egret was a divine gift.

    • Your comment means a great deal to me. I’ve known the word within the context of reading others, but this year I have felt the pull to experience “liminality” in a very particular way. It’s been a very deep time. We all go through very “deep times” when someone we love is gravely ill, and in our human connections we can show compassion and comfort one another. Thank you so very much, Otto.

  8. Tragedy helps us to tune into our feelings better than most any other experience. My brother is 88 and an amazement to me. Mentally alert and physically fit, he can pass for under 70. You can’t pull anything over on him. He even has a smart phone and he uses it! Perhaps learning how to process all that life throws at you is key to mortality.

    • Your brother is an amazement to me, Kate. And an inspiration at that! He’s been very fortunate to have had health that contributed to making the most of the opportunities he’s been given. At the same time, I’m sure he’s had his own trials, not to mention this latest terrible accident! Having a good perspective on life and trials is a sure way to build resilience! Judith Viorst, at 88, was years younger in attitude and appearance, that’s certain. I was so very glad to meet her!

  9. So timely for me to read this post, Debra. A dear friend of mine had her mom pass away this weekend, and we’ve had our own share of grief and loss lately. I especially love what you said here – “I have to ask myself why it takes great love or great loss for me to tune into the mystery of liminal space.” So true. It somehow feels okay knowing that we aren’t the only ones contemplating our way through these moments. Sending you lots of love.

    • Thank you so much, dear Stacey. I’m so sorry to learn that you’ve been going through some deep waters, too. Life is like that. It seems to come at us in waves. Fear of loss and grieving itself definitely gives us an opportunity to focus our attentions and remember what matters. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond, and I send my love right back to you!

  10. Thoughts for you and your friend at this difficult time Debra. Cancer remains a tragic burden on humanity despite all the research work that has been done to find cures. I have a distant friend who is currently being treated from Ewings Sarcoma. He is in his mid-twenties and has played football for our club. They’ve had to take out a large chunk of his shin and he is currently undergoing chemotherapy to try and halt the spread of this agressive bone cancer. If he pulls through, he’ll never play football again.

    There is an irony about the word Liminal in that most people have never used it (including me) and yet know its cousin, Subliminal, very well 😉

    • You are right, Martin, about subliminal, and that had not occurred to me at all! As much as I have focused on “liminal,” I haven’t once tapped into subliminal, but of course it is very familiar. Thank you so much for that! “Liminal” most definitely must have significance for me, or is pushing me to something, because even last night, a few days after posting, I was reading a gardening book and the author spent about three paragraphs explaining something about her experience and gave a fairly detailed explanation of not just the meaning “liminal”, but its origin. I was stunned! LOL!

      Much more importantly, I’m so deeply sad to hear about the young man with Ewings Sarcoma. Not only is it a dreadful diagnosis, but to think of him being so young and facing this breaks my heart for him, and his family. Sometimes we think we have some level of understanding what people go through, and yet, we just can’t. I’m so sorry. He will undoubtedly be in my thoughts, and thus prayers. I have a very soft heart in this matter.

  11. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous post, Debra. Tears in my eyes for its beautiful message. I don’t know what liminal is, really, but I think this was liminal writing you shared with us here. I remember, vaguely, reading Necessary Losses and liking it … a lot. I will now get Nearing 90.
    Life — so tenuous and tender. One of my good friends has a daughter in her mid-40s (a mother-wife-teacher), and they seem like soul mates. The daughter got diagnosed two months ago with a rare brain disease in which there is no cure. She has a month or so to live. Watching my friend live through this daily grief kicks me in the gut. I wish her love’s liminality.

    • Thank you, Pam, for sharing about your friend’s daughter. I’m heartbroken to hear that a young woman, especially with children, is facing end of life care at this time. I cannot even begin to imagine the suffering for her, and maybe on some levels even more for her family. They are all living in liminal time, as they are poised on the edge of this dear woman’s transitioning to another plane, or however they understand where a soul resides, and for her family, the liminality of being poised for a different experience once they’ve lost their precious mother-wife-daughter. Heartbreaking time in this case.

      Judith Viorst has written a book of poetry for every decade of her life, and you might want to start with one a little closer to your own, rather than 90! I have my mom and two wonderful women in my life about Judith’s age, so her “Almost 90” was delightful to me. I felt like I caught a glimpse of where my mother might be living (and thinking!). Necessary Losses may also not be all the significant you at this stage of your life, but for me at the time I first read it, probably around 40, it represented ideas and thoughts I’d not yet experienced. It was a big step for me then that has paid dividends for the 25 years afterwards when I began to experience losses. Thank you, Pam. I’ve kind of gone on and on…but I was touched by your story!

      • I appreciate your response. I needed it. My friend’s daughter just died. I worry about my friend making it through this – she was so close to her precious “child.”
        My mom is 90+ now so I think I’d like the “Almost 90” just as you say, helping us understand our moms.
        Hugs to you, and again, thank you for your comments. ❤

  12. I feel like I’ve been wandering in a liminal space for quite sometime Debra…I wasn’t familiar with the term but I have been living it. I’m sorry to hear of your friend, I do hope you find beauty even in the transition and your friend finds peace. I’ve been mesmerized by the simple yet complex occurances in nature, it’s hopeful now but it was hard to see before Spring made it clear.

    • Thank you so much for sending your kind thoughts at what is indeed a difficult time, Cristina. And after your response about your own living in liminality, based upon the little I know through what you’ve previously shared, I’d say YES! You do understand the concept and have been living in that liminal space. We speak so often as going through “seasons” in our lives, and most of the time we’re referring to a period where we just don’t feel like we are quite where we want or need to be. We are on the edge of another time. I’m so glad that your frozen world has unthawed, my friend. I hope summer will give you lots and lots of wonderful time with your three “bears” as well. 🙂

    • Thank you, Nancy! I just now took a few minutes and read it! Isn’t she just fabulous? I think every word she said was genuine, as she has been consistent through the years in expressing gratitude for “what is” rather than pining for something “else.” For some reason she has always spoken directly to me, so I’m delighted with this article. Thank you, my friend.

  13. I hope your comfort to your dear friend eases his pain. Glad you met Judith Viorst at the time you needed her. I, too, am touched by your words.
    Sending me love, Debra.

  14. So many sad stories appear in your comments, Debbie, and yes, it’s something that all of us of a certain age are familiar with. And others, not so fortunate, much younger! It’s not a word I’ve ever used but thank you for explaining it so beautifully. I hope your friend finds peace in the way ahead, and that you and your family do too, alongside the grief. Sending hugs, darlin!

  15. Pingback: Denouement – breathelighter

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