- relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.
- occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.
In anthropology, It can refers to the mid stage in a rite of passage, where one is no longer what one was, but not yet what one will become—the couple standing at the altar, the house in escrow, the hair stylist half done with the makeover.
I first ran across the word “liminal” in a great book about American immigrants I read years ago. I am such a big fan of words in general, especially ones that are fun to say out loud, that I responded to that one right away, even before I knew what it meant. Liminal is rhythmic. It sounds good said slowly or fast. Liminal. Lim-in-al.
Liminal as a state of mind is a mixed bag, though.
My new normal is living out of a suitcase, or, when staying at Dan’s, out of a cardboard box with the clothes that work for whatever transition I am in. That kind of liminality I am used to. But I had a really weird experience yesterday with a different aspect of it.
A woman came up in the elevator from the garage with Dan and me last night, and we all got off on the third floor. She went straight to the door of my condo, and I realized she was my tenant, whom I had never met. We introduced ourselves on the door step, and she invited me in
I saw that what was inside was my furniture, but I couldn’t relate to it at all. It was like wandering in a dream. Framed posters of my book covers were on the walls, and throw pillows and other details I had lovingly chosen were still there, so the place was still marked as mine, I guess you could say. But it didn’t seem to have any connection to me.
I am still trying to make sense of this. I had zero nostalgia, zero sense of missing my old life, of wanting it back. I have old photos with many times the resonance my own condo had for me.
I know now I won’t be returning to the same place I left because I am already not the same person who lived there. When I come back, it won’t be home in the same way—more, I think, like a place I am staying. Kind of like a ship cabin. Kind of like a hotel room. Kind of like a friend’s guest bedroom.
It will be nice some day to have drawers, to have more choices of clothes, to have a place to spread out, and maybe some day that will matter to me more than it does at the moment. Maybe I will settle in, start to clutter my space up, get used to receiving mail and packages the easy way, get into old and some new routines with friends, swing a golf club and a tennis racquet more often, have a car again. But paradoxically, it seems such a limited way to live. I may only have a couple of pieces of luggage right now, but I have the world. How will I ever be contented to stay put again?
All I know is I absolutely believe, in the words of singer poet Josh Groban’s song “Let Me Fall,”
The one I want
The one I will become
Will catch me.
That’s liminality. When I am done with this wandering, the person I have become will welcome me home, whenever and wherever that is. No, that’s not quite right. The person I become will be my home, just as the person I am now is all the home I need.