Crisis and opportunity

photo by gayle mavor

Liminal space. A latin word for threshold. In between, on the precipice of something new and yet unknown.

It was a lovely conversation between the CBC broadcaster Shelagh Rogers, (also the Chancellor of the University of Victoria), and the poet Lorna Crozier that led my attention to focus on this word and that’s how writing begins.

Something that resonates, grabbing hold, pushing me to open my laptop, turn it on and feel the necessity of putting words together, getting something down.

A sentence captured. A scene. An emotion. The way the light hits a pair of old curtains at a certain time of day and shadows the folds of the fabric. A memory jarred. About how so much of life, including life itself, is a liminal space, a time of waiting or being in an emotional state in between another emotional state that was less or more, or just different than the one we’re currently in.

I have lived my life as if everything is a liminal space and to my detriment, I think. I have rarely felt permanence, not since I’ve been my own person with what little control we have over our own lives.  

I think about what it must feel like to be in a relationship that we know is permanent, someone there, for better and worse, such a strong love that we know the other is it to us as we are to them.

Life gets easier when someone is in our corner and we know they are at home waiting. And what must it be like for those who thought they had that permanence, and it gets taken through the death of their person, through betrayal, through the loss of feelings, especially unanticipated, that force us to consider what next? The fear rising because we know a liminal space and messiness awaits if we make a choice we never imagined we’d have to make.

I have always been drawn more to the liminal spaces than to permanence all the while recognizing the illusion of permanence. Permanence, in the past, has felt like the jailor. Liminal is just over there, the greener grass, the other side of an escape that must be made.

And in this time of staying close to home, the anticipation of the threshold of new scenery, new faces, new ideas has been challenged. And that unsettles me. The summer, usually a time of anticipation, is filling me, no matter how much I don’t want such a feeling to rise, with dread.

There will be no festivals. No Moss street Paint In. No Powell Street Festival. No Harmony Arts Festival. There will be no plans of big escapes on an airplane to exciting foreign locales, landscapes of new beauty  and new chance encounters with strangers I’d have never met otherwise.

In a way it’s a return to a childhood in a working class family where the neighborhood was all there was. The park. The close by. The down the street and around the corner. The next door neighbours. The best friend. The family contained. The scenes played out at a dinner table. Every newly introduced guest was a curiosity then.  That’s what my childhood felt like.

There was, at times, hopelessness as well, a hopelessness that came from that small seemingly endless world of permanence. And in that realization, perhaps those past feelings of hopelessness that are attached to my childhood permanence hold the key to the appeal in the liminal for me.

How will I fill this summer? How will I rethink staying put? Every day and year more precious the older we get, not wanting anything to take any of our precious moments and dictate that, for a time, especially a time that we can’t predict, things will have to be less. And the even greater fear that less will be the new norm. Recognizing how less can be good — for other species, for ecology — and yet not wanting to accept less as an imposed way of being in daily human existence.

I’m left with the question of how to make this summer meaningful as this pandemic stretches on. What will I find and choose to look forward to? How will I figure out the best way to rethink the here and now in a way that works for me?

I have not been sick. Friends have not been sick.  I still have a pay cheque being deposited into my bank account. The impact on time and space are the least of the impacts for us lucky ones right now, and yet still challenging.

I guess I will really have to explore inside to redefine Liminal as possibility, to redefine how to create a pandemic summer of staying close to home that doesn’t depress the hell out of me.

I guess the challenge is to perceive of this upcoming summer as that Chinese symbol, the one with the double meaning – crisis and opportunity.


This idea for this post came from a conversation between Shelgah Rogers and Lorna Crozier in a new show called Good Company. 



  1. I’m sorry it took me so long to comment as your post did give me pause. So much of what you’ve written aligns with how I have felt and how I feel now. Thank you for taking the time to express your thoughts, Gayle. The one thing I don’t think you mentioned, and perhaps it wasn’t dealt with in Shelagh Rogers convo with Lorna Crozier, are those moments of decision when a person makes a choice, takes a leap of faith, takes a chance on themselves, says or does something to push their life in a different direction. I guess that is the road less travelled territory. But, I do see it as a concept that may have similar emotion to liminal space.

    1. HI Jo-anne,
      Thank you for your comment. Yes, that leap of faith experience has some similarity. When I read what you said I realized the difference might be in how one feels about whether the liminal space has been imposed or chosen. I have made a leap of faith in the past as you know, maybe more than one. I’m probably forgetting one or two. I’m thinking specifically of just moving to Salt Spring. The difference is that making a choice or choosing a leap of faith that is being spurred by intuition or resolute decision can be incredibly empowering because it lets you feel as if you are taking control of your life, willing to assume the risk of outcome but hoping for the best and paying attention to those inner feelings that will always give hints about whether it’s a good idea or not. And I guess, the only option we have for reaching empowerment in this COVID scenario comes from how we react to this imposed liminal space. My issue with the latter is that being put in a holding pattern seems to tap into an aspect of my personality that has always found the feeling of “being stuck” difficult. The isolation begins to impinge upon my history of serious depression and the isolation I’m experiencing is beginning to result in feelings of sliding emotionally into that realm and that is always an alarming experience.

  2. Thanks, Gayle. Your post resonates, especially the parallel of covid-restriction with childhood/family restriction. Like you, I have a life-long attraction to the liminal, coming from those early feelings of limitation. Yet, that era also inspired creativity, adaptation, and offered vast time and space to think and dream.

    1. Yes. it did. Somehow that feels harder to access now. Or maybe appreciate.It requires more work now, whereas in childhood it was naturally present. Something to consider though.

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