The background check for my new job took four weeks to clear and the whole time I continued to work at my old job as if nothing had changed. I heard myself agreeing to meetings I knew I might not be around to attend and projects I wouldn’t be around to finish. My present seemed frozen between two branching paths—one, a continuation of my past; the second, a potential future.
Being engaged is like this. For this brief present, I occupy a status defined both by who I was (“not single anymore!”) and who I will become (“bride to be!”). I hang new shelves in his closet for my things, then drive home to my roommates practicing the word our.
These are liminal spaces. In anthropology, a liminal space is a threshold, the disorienting doorway in ritual between “before” and “after.” Girls become women. People become spouses. Unbelievers become believers become prophets and priests. But the transfigurations are not instant. In between is an uncomfortable space that is more often “neither/nor” than “both/and.”
Social organizers speak of liminal times in society where social norms are subverted or suspended. These times of transition are fragile but also charged with possibilities of new ways of being. Imagine the protests of June 2020 without the shut-down of March 2020. Think of the seeds of resistance grown in the beds of war.
Liminal spaces are fluid. People living on the shores of Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán tell children not to swim at certain hours of the day when the walls that separate the spirit world from ours grow weaker, the wind blows stronger, and a careless bather might be pulled to the bottom of the lake.
In Celtic Christianity, places like the lake are called “thin spaces,” places where heaven and earth touch. You probably know instantly what this means. You have felt it in a cathedral or a meadow or your grandmother’s bedside or the moment when your car spins out of control. In that liminal space, you may not be the same again, but you haven’t changed yet, either.
So you wait.
It is not-quite-morning, in the breath-held, dew-soaked instant before the sun breaks through and the spell is broken.
It is dozing on a long-haul flight.
It is the summer between high school and college.
It is the seconds before a kiss.
It is the moment between a revelation and a confrontation, between a miracle and its retelling.
It is ashes, pre-phoenix. It is Christ in the tomb.
What was and what will be mingle. The only thing to be right now is here.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons user alq666 (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Katerina Parsons lives in Washington, D.C. where she works on international humanitarian assistance (views not of her employer). A graduate of Calvin University (2015) and American University (2022), she lived in Honduras for four years before moving back to the U.S. to work on policy and advocacy. She enjoys reading, dancing, and experimenting in her community garden plot.