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Lightwaves #003: Sitting in Liminal Space

Steve Schlafman
Steve Schlafman
5 min read
Lightwaves #003: Sitting in Liminal Space

Greetings from New York City! My family and I have spent the last few months in upstate New York, and have come back to the metropolis to finish the summer and welcome our new daughter.

Being back in the city has provided a jolt of energy and ambition, despite the hellish temps and throngs of tourists on Broadway. Eliza, my lovely wife, moved her desk into my office, so I now have a co-working buddy for the foreseeable future. It’s nice to have a companion working alongside me.

We have two weeks until the baby’s due date, and theoretically she could arrive any day now. The nursery is prepped. The new car seat is installed. The go bag is packed. We’re ready.

As I stand in this liminal space and gaze towards the threshold between my current existence and the life that awaits on the other side, I’m reminded of this passage from Arnold van Gennep, the Dutch-German-French anthropologist who in 1908 coined the terms rite of passage and liminality:

“Life itself means to separate and to be reunited, to change form and condition, to die and to be reborn. It is to act and to cease, to wait and to rest, and then to begin acting again, but in a different way. And there are always new thresholds to cross: the threshold of summer and winter, of season or a year, of a month or a night; the thresholds of birth, adolescence, maturity and old age; the threshold of death and that of the afterlife—for those who believe in it.”

The English poet Willam Blake described these thresholds as “doors between the known and unknown.” My daughter's birth is like a towering gate looming over me, quickly approaching and ready to swallow me. As I pass through, a part of me will die and another will emerge on the other side. With both feet firmly planted on the ground facing this certainty, my body is flooded with emotions—anxiety, fear, sadness, grief, excitement—because I treasure the road I’ve traveled, appreciate who I’ve become, and wonder how things will unfold.

Life as I know it today—stable, comfortable, routine—will soon end and be redefined by my new daughter, the changes that ensue, and my reaction to what arises. The door to the unknown will open the moment Eliza goes into labor, we’ll walk through it together, and then it’ll shut behind us forever. All what will remain are memories. I’ll never have this experience or these moments again—being a family of three living in NYC with good health and ample free time (and sleep!). This thought fills me with sadness because this has been a special time in my life. I’ve begun to grieve what we had.

Once the baby arrives, my life will no doubt be messy, unpredictable, and sleep-deprived. The well worn grooves that formed over the last four years will fade away, like the wind and tides slowly erasing patterns of sand on a beach. With enough time and experience, I’ll carve new grooves to restore a sense of stability and sanity. New routines will emerge. New systems will be designed. New channels of communication established. New habits will take shape. And my relationship with Eliza and my eldest daughter will evolve into something similar yet different. On the other side, I’ll experience a new life with more demands, more late nights, more diapers, and of course much more love.

Even though I’m already a father, I don’t know what I’ll encounter this time around. The world and our context is different. Our lives and careers are different. And our new daughter will certainly be her own person—even my identical twin Dave and I are totally different! Trying to predict the future with all of its complexity and unpredictability would just be a wild ass guess!

Instead of going on a fool’s errand, I’m easing into this liminal space, getting ample rest, and being with all of the appreciation, anticipation, love, grief, and wonder that’s coming in waves.

Where in your life is there liminal space? What’s that like for you?


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A special welcome to the 53 new Lightwaves (a.k.a. subscribers) getting this for the first time. I’m glad you’re here.

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I recently discovered a thought provoking newsletter called life:examined by Shanna Trenholm, a writer and creative strategist based in Portugal. In her words, it’s “a weekly invitation to get curious—a collection of ideas, and thoughts about living a creative, intentional life.” In the latest issue, she grants permission “to stop doing the things that make you feel awful.” She even takes it one step further: “Grab a sheet of paper and number the page from 1 to 10. Now, without overthinking it, start writing down the things you don’t want to do—regardless of the peer or parental/partner pressure you’ll experience.” Knowing what you don’t want is just as important as knowing what you want. This is a simple and fast exercise to discover that for yourself. life:examined (5 minutes)

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Exec coach. Writer. Student of Change.