Liminal

I enjoy watching YouTube channels devoted to old, defunct theme park attractions. Channels like Defunctland, Yesterworld, and others offer highly entertaining and informative deep dives into one of my most favorite topics: ephemera. Maybe it’s a lingering side effect of working in live theater, but I have a fondness for things that just aren’t built to last.

Sure, a place like Disneyland seems timeless and in a constant state of renewal, but I first visited the part in 2001, when it was desperately in need of some TLC. I’ve seen how quickly the timeless can crumble when neglected.

Last night, I watched a video that has stayed with me all day. Offhand Disney’s “Liminal Spaces at the Disney Parks”:

A transitional space that is neither here nor there.

It reminds me of growing up in “flyover country,” mostly in rural Arkansas and Louisiana, looking up at the night sky and picking out the distant blinking lights of a passenger plane. Thinking about the people inside the plane, who left one destination city bound for another. That was a very liminal time in my life.

When my wife and I moved to Los Angeles, I felt that I had finally arrived. In fact, I had passed from one liminal space to another. I don’t think I really appreciated it at the time–I was too busy trying to make that transition to notice where I was–but I can reflect on just how magical it was.

There’s a buzz in Los Angeles. It’s a liminal space for so many people; hundreds of thousands of other people simultaneously transitioning. Actively working on it. It’s energizing.

In reading about liminal space today, I ran across this meditation by a Franciscan friar, Father Richard Rohr:

“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.”

Much like Zeno’s arrow I think we sometimes forget that we are constantly in a state of motion. Constantly in a liminal space. We have an illusion of being at rest, but we are nevertheless firing forward into the unknown, towards some distant target that will mark the end of our flight.

It reminds me of something I wrote in my journal, not long after moving from Los Angeles to our new home in Dallas. “Life is a series of interlocking interludes. Rolling French scenes that meander through time. We make our entrances and our exits, as does everyone. You can’t replay the past or perform your future roles before their time. All you have is now. Don’t squander that and you’ll do fine.”

More from Fr. Rohr:

“Cheap religion teaches us how to live contentedly in a sick world, just as poor therapy teaches us how to accommodate ourselves to a sometimes small world based on power, prestige, and possessions. A good therapist and a good minister will always open up larger vistas for you, which are by definition risky, instead of just ‘rearranging the deck chairs’ on a sinking Titanic.”

Lately I’ve been missing the old me. The “cocksure and arrogant” me who dreamed big and boldly chased down those dreams. The me who is capable of commanding an audience, inspiring others, and creating marvels. Not because I desire power, prestige, or possessions. Not at all. Because I miss the way it makes me feel. I miss dancing at the edge of risk, creating ephemeral experiences that nevertheless echo forward into the lives of others.

Much like Disneyland, circa 2001, I feel like I’m slowing falling apart. Yeah, I’m getting older. I was 26 years old when I first set foot on Hollywood Blvd. I’m 46 now. But it’s more than just routine body stuff, more than just sleep apnea, anxiety issues, occasional aches and pains.

I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. I guess I never really knew what I was doing, but when I was in my 20s and 30s at least I didn’t know that I didn’t know.

Fr. Rohr says, “If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy.” I think it can work the other way, too. You can start idealizing normalcy so much that you shut yourself off to liminal space. The liminal is all around us. The only constant in the cosmos is change, and we are very much a part of the cosmos.

I need to open up to larger vistas. I need to figure out how.

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