I’ve got a great life, and I’m healthy, in a committed, longterm relationship with someone I love, I have a great family and live in a free country. I have no reason to complain or gripe. Our family are well, and in fact our daughter and her husband are moving forward on their new business venture: Graham Street Motorcar Service.
As I have explained in the past this “blog” is more in the manner of my own diary; and as a diary I talk about things that are on my mind. For me, being “on my mind” is partly about self-knowledge. A lot of people seem to go through life and know very little about themselves. But, I have always been interested in understanding the way my own brain sees the world and sometimes making a conscious effort to change (in my eyes “improve”) who I am. In recent months I’ve been talking a lot about the fact that our house has not sold — that’s an old, old story. Of course from this side of the keyboard it’s the one thing that’s actually “going on” in our world at the moment. And it happens to be important to ME to be conscious of the fact that I am in a state of waiting. No one else in the world may care. But the way I keep my own sanity has always been to face up to what’s happening and adjust as necessary.
In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.
What’s it like to be in between everything? What’s it like to feel as if you are always on the precipice? The “what” is an extremely personal emotion. More important than what does it feel like is how do you stay positive when liminality continues beyond the length of a ritual, beyond a day, or a week, or a month.
There are clinical symptoms related to living with unfulfilled expectations. Repetitive disappointment can and does produce negative reactions in the human machine. Your body and mind expect things to move from point “a” to point “b” in the same methodical manner that your auto engine expect lubricating oil that is viscous enough to prevent metal coming in contact with metal.
In normal life one occupies themselves with the minutae of life: your job, cooking, taking care of the kids, exercise, sports. But what happens when all those things are removed?
Some years ago I was traveling in Australia and I had the opportunity to meet with a friend of a friend who was serving a life term in a prison in S.W. Australia. The location was Freemantle Prison. The prison had been opened in 1851 but after years of use it had been condemned for human occupation (some 20 years before the prison was closed in 1991).
In 1851 it was a noteworthy institution and worthy of some praise and appreciation. But over the years public attitudes changed but little changed within the walls of Freemantle.
I tell you this because it is directly related to to my topic of the day. THE MOST TERRIFYING EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE, even worse than having a wet shirt stuck to my face and fearing I might drown, was going into that prison and having the doors clank closed behind me. There were no fancy security systems, no cameras to monitor the inmate population. All there were was iron bars, steel keys, and ugliness. I will never forget the feeling of being confined to that small space while we awaited the inmate we had arrived to visit. We were told in advance that we might not be allowed to visit him; that we could expect to be “held” in a cell for some time while he was located and brought to us. That short time seemed forever.
I cannot imagine what it must be for a prisoner to be confined to a cell. The fellow I went to visit had been a U.S. sailor, the only american in an Aussie bar when an Aussie lost his life. I have no idea whether he was actually guilty of the murder of which he was convicted. I went as a favor to a friend and our visit was quite agreeable. We talked about how he filled his hours, about how life had changed over the 17 years he had already been confined, and we talked about Scripture and Jesus.
It’s an experience I’ll never forget. The reason I have lived so much of my life paying little attention to what HAS happened and focussed on what lies AHEAD is that I learned that I have no coping mechanism for being trapped, being stuck in the middle, for being unable to “do.” To be confined in a square with nowhere to go, nothing to do, other than the occupation your brain can bring to 6 walls — it’s absolutely maddening.
When my father-in-law Frank Burke was in hospital at the end of his life, he spent 12 weeks confined in a hospital bed. Eight of those weeks he was on a ventilator and much of that time he was not exactly comatose but unable to respond, move, or function in any meaningful way that a human might behave. Peggy and I alternated time with him. It’s a period in my life I would never trade. He needed us and we did what we could to help. That was the most, and it was all we could do.
As his time in hospital lengthened he finally came off the ventilator but by then he had lost most of his physical strength and the ability to speak. As I watched the process of his decline I was ever so aware of the effects of in-activity. That means physical and mental activity.
While I’ve never been much of an exercise enthusiast, I do still try to stay active. As for my brain, I never stop thinking. It it’s not a plan for the future, or an option to a plan, then its a re-examination of something that has happened. It doesn’t pay to rehash past decisions — you can’t change the past. But you can change how you react in the future and to me, that’s what self-knowledge is good for. Each day I hope I am better able to react to whatever tomorrow may bring because I learned from the lessons of yesterday how better to live tomorrow.