Last summer, I was playing golf with a friend who used the word “liminal” to describe the transition period between the end of full-time work and whatever we do with the rest of our lives. I liked the word, and the idea, and had to admit I that didn’t know its meaning. My friend is an educated man. His usage was precise. According to Oxford, liminal means “a transitional or initial stage of a process” and occupies “a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.” My friend said that, for him, the liminal stage of retirement — the crossing-over period of a number of months in a kind of suspended animation — was valuable because he waited to see where it took him. That seems like good advice to me. Relax. Suspend foreboding. Define nothing. Just go with it. Take the next right step. Then the one after that. (Another friend would call that Taoist, which, as this site explains, “teaches a person to flow with life.”) Wikipedia says that liminal derives from the Latin “limen” (threshold) and in anthropology, liminality “is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.” Boy, that describes the earliest months of retirement so well. Ambiguity. Disorientation. A rite of passage. And then I found this site, called Liminal Space, and they further nailed it with this quote from the author and theologian Richard Rohr:
[Liminal space is] “where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible… This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy. The threshold is God’s waiting room. Here we are taught openness and patience as we come to expect an appointment with the divine Doctor.”
That says so much. Desirable space. Space where newness can begin and “the old world is able to fall apart.” Space we need to occupy repeatedly, so we don’t “idealize normalcy.”
God’s waiting room? The divine Doctor? Not sure about those. But I like the idea of a waiting room that matters a lot. With something worth waiting for on the other side.