LIMINALITY: The Threshold Betwixt and Between
The word liminality, is derived from the Latin word limen, meaning threshold. According to dictionary.com: “liminality is the transitional period or phase of a rite of passage, during which the participant lacks social status or rank, remains anonymous, shows obedience and humility, and follows prescribed forms of conduct, dress, etc.” I can identify with liminality as I navigate through my journey of grief – without the obedience and humility verbiage thank you very much! What was once a world I cherished and adored, is now turned upside down and I am on the threshold of Betwixt-and-Between-Land. A state of liminality is one where the order of things has been suspended. It is an unsettling arena where I am learning to steer my vehicle and hoping very soon to guide it towards finding my new self. In liminality, the past is brought into play only briefly to review the loss. It is the future and the promise of transformation that I find so heartening about liminality.
The idea of liminality was introduced into the field of anthropology in 1909 by Arnold Van Gennep in his work Les Rites de Passage. Van Gennep described the rites of passage, such as coming of age rituals and marriage, as having the following three-part structure: separation; liminal period; and re-assimilation. A person grieving can be considered going through this pattern. She feels the loss, then is inducted into the liminal transition period, and finally re-assimilates into society. It was not until the second half of the 20th Century with the writings of Victor Turner, that the concept of liminality was explored fully. In Liminality and Communitas, Turner began by defining liminal individuals as “neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremony”. But Turner gives hope by referring to “betwixt and between” through the concept of the “realm of pure possibility.”
When Peter died I experienced a loss so great that I was thrown into a liminal state of uncertainty. Losing a loved one creates a void that leaves an emptiness that weighs so heavily on your heart that you have to look inward in order to move forward. Sadness catapulted me into a liminal state forcing me to regroup and turn inside myself. Essentially, it made me take a very long emotional time out. I had to honor the pain as I would have done with a physical injury. There is no Tylenol or Advil for grief. I had to heal myself holistically while searching for my life-force in this liminal space. I had to sit in this unsettling place using my core beliefs; the help and support of family and friends; daily exercise; and even my daily routines to dig into my stripped-down spiritual self and retrieve what was left of Laurie after PeterLaurie – not to be confused with the actor Peter Lorre. That was the way we were, to quote one of my favorite movies. What is too painful to remember we simply now choose to forget…for a while.
But I have moved through this threshold now. I am looking through the door and stepping into a world that is completely altered. A year after Peter’s death, I now see the space of liminality as a way to provide limitless opportunities for me in a new and transformative life. My writing has gotten me through the door and into the open air. My determination has propelled me like an Eveready bunny to keep moving forward no matter what lies in my path. My support system constantly reminds me of who I am and how I will evolve. They cheer me on like I am a rock star. As I recover myself in my liminal state, I have hope and anticipation of what lies beyond door number one for myself, and for others who are struggling on the threshold betwixt and between a new normal.