Your reason and your passion are the
rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.
If either your sails or your rudder be
broken, you can but toss and drift, or else
be held at a standstill in mid-seas.
For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining;
and passion, unattended, is a flame
that burns to its own destruction.
Therefore let your soul exalt your reason
to the height of passion, that it may sing;
And let it direct your passion with
reason, that your passion may live through
its own daily resurrection, and like the
phoenix rise above its own ashes.
I sat on my new balcony patio, still in pajamas, sipping coffee in the warmth of the rising sun. I read a book by a woman who had set out to write a scholarly account of two Wyoming botanists. As she followed the research, her writing morphed into a memoir of plants and place. This is how it goes, it seems, when we allow our thinking minds to slowly cede back to our open hearts. Who knows where we’ll end up, where we’ll return, what wisdom we’ll find in the flora.
He leaned on the railing of the patio adjacent to mine, a new tenant with the familiar gaze I’d had myself just a few days prior, leaning on my own railing. It’s the look that wonders how in the world you got there, but still fresh and inspired by the mystery of what unfolds next.
“It’s only temporary,” I heard the motherly figure helping him move reassure him.
Those words, too, were familiar to me from a past recent life. Those words I had spoken from my own heart, desperately reminding my mind that it could calm down, that it wasn’t in danger, that this was just a temporary situation. Those words I’d heard from loved ones who believed in me more than I could in those moments, from the anchors in my life who could already see the vast beauty that waited ahead for me, whenever I was ready to turn towards its light and accept the warmth of its rays.
Later that day, as I arduously unpacked boxes that I’d just unpacked eight months prior (and another five months prior to that), I sent a text to my friend: “What was that word you mentioned? The one that describes the state of being in between something ending and something beginning where there’s an opportunity to learn?”
Ten months ago, I had schlepped my broken heart from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. to be held by the unconditional love of sisterhood. At that moment, I was riding high on the promise of rebirth through the pain, and my friend had used a word to describe my state as she drove me from the airport to downtown.
“Liminal,” she texted back, and then called.
“Yeah, liminal,” she said. “I’m not sure it’s a good thing, though, so I’d look it up to be sure. I heard it on a murder podcast. But maybe it’s like the phoenix rising from the ashes or something.”
“Yes,” I replied. “That’s exactly what I’m looking for.”
According to the esteemed Wikipedia, “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 a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete. During a rite’s liminal stage, participants ‘stand at the threshold’ between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which completing the rite establishes.”
With the help of another beloved friend from D.C., I soon lugged my heavy body from eastern Tennessee to western North Carolina, landing on the floor of a 1930s Art Deco apartment near downtown Asheville. I lied on the floor hemorrhaging blood from a severed ghost limb until my immune system kicked in enough to coagulate the gushing wound. When I rose, I rubbed it gently with ointment. I read it poetry. I took it on long walks in the woods. I watched as it scabbed over. I witnessed the scab fall off and reveal a tender fleshy scar. I observed in awe as a new form grew to take its place.
One day, my coffee machine finished making the coffee well before I decided to rise to drink it. I poured a cup regardless, sat at my kitchen table, and slowly sipped the lukewarm, burnt beverage. It was terrible coffee but came with a familiar flavor. It was the taste of something on the way to somewhere else—that cup of joe you get just off the interstate at 2am. It’s been sitting out all day. It’s awful. But it hits the spot. It fuels you through the night, putting miles in the rearview mirror.
I thought about the customer service rep I’d spoken with when I was delicately trying to figure out how to switch the internet account I’d shared with my former partner out of my name and into his. I didn’t want to inconvenience my former partner. I wanted him to have internet. I didn’t want to make a big deal to the customer service rep. I wanted to appear put together.
“You know,” the customer service rep stopped me in the midst of my language gymnastics around the state of my heart and that of the internet account. “Life is a lot like a car. The windshield is a whole lot bigger than the rearview mirror. You’ve given enough. He can set up his own internet now.”
As a society, we emphasize the peaks, the transitions, the moments of action. We celebrate the rites of passage through graduations, weddings, funerals, house warmings. But rarely do we pay homage to the liminal stage, to the murky, unsure waters that lie in between an end and a beginning, an end and a beginning. An end and a beginning. Those many miles we drive and hike and climb and drag ourselves through to get closer to who we are. Those little moments on the phone with a stranger who tells us we have a right to show ourselves care.
We fail to see the constant movement of life, through reason and passion, through seeming plateaus that soon dive into valleys and spring into peaks. We burn and we rise, we burn and we rise. We find ourselves sitting on new patios, wondering how we got here, asking what happens next, sipping our coffee in the warmth of the sun we finally turned towards.
I rested in Asheville until I got my reason back, until I could look in my own eyes again and love who I saw. I then turned to my heart to listen for what to do next, and, despite my historic status as a rule follower, eight months into a 12-month lease, I had the wisdom and passion to return to what I’d left behind in my haste, to unfinished business with the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains, a community of Appalachian writers, and the ostentatious tourist economy of eastern Tennessee. I said a prayer for the space in Asheville that had held me, and then I burned it all down and I rose again. And it’s all temporary. Again. A fresh start to a fresh start.
So here I’ll rest now once more, listening ever closer to the liminal whispers, guiding us towards our hearts, painting the masterpiece that tells us when the winds become right to move again, doing the hard work of the in-between space where we find the impenetrable structure of our true identity.
Among the hills, when you sit in the cool—Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
shade of the white poplars, sharing the peace,
and serenity of distant fields and meadows
—then let your heart say in silence, “God
rests in reason.”
And when the storm comes, and the
mighty wind shakes the forest, and thunder
and lightning proclaim the majesty of the
sky,—then let your heart say in awe, “God
moves in passion.”
And since you are a breath in God’s
sphere, and a leaf in God’s forest, you too
should rest in reason and move in passion.