Liminal Spaces (aka post-jetlag 4am ramblings)

The former Red Cross Hospital in Daegu.

A friend and I were talking before I left about how trips like this open up liminal spaces in our lives. These “in-between” spaces that happen when we step outside our normal everyday lives open doors to places in the world around us and in our hearts that we didn’t know existed. In these past two weeks we all have returned to our roots in search answers to questions about our past.

But it’s not just the past that we have experienced in our time here. This in-between space has been a place of growth and change, a chance to touch the well of strength and resilience that lies deep within each of us. I know for myself, and for many others here, these two weeks together, in this liminal space we have created together, have started a process of transformation that will unfold for days and years to come.

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These were words I shared on our last day in Korea, in gratitude to the staff and volunteers of GOA’L, who worked so tirelessly to make our first trip home an amazing experience. There’s so much to share about my two weeks there, but what’s been in my heart lately is this idea of liminality…a pausing between spaces, both physical and temporal, that allow us to exist in a state of neither here nor there.

According to our good friends at 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 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.

~

Perhaps it was that the trip was scheduled right between summer and fall term for me, which also coincided with the fall equinox. A pause in the arc of our days, a balancing of light and dark before we turn towards the darkness, a slowing down physically and mentally….a return to dream time. Korea was not a dream…no, it was very real, and it has slipped into my body and heart in a way that will not let go.

But this trip was more than a vacation. It was more than the destination, more than the food and the people and the mountains (but oh, the glorious mountains!), although those were all integral components of my experience. It was an opportunity for me to touch, both literally and figuratively, an empty void in my life that previously had no defined shape, simply a presence. Korea transformed itself from a destination to a threshold, a doorway to a new understanding of myself and where I come from.

One of the most profound doorways I walked through during my two weeks in Korea was one that was no longer physically open to me. The photo at the top of the post is of the former Red Cross Hospital in Daegu, near the Banwoldang subway station. According to my paperwork, this is the hospital where I was born. For almost 30 years, this place has been a question mark in my history. It is no longer a functioning hospital, but (remarkably, given the rate of development in Korea) it is still standing, empty. I spent an afternoon last week just sitting on the front steps, wandering the area, taking in the sights and sounds–a bustling commercial strip with a huge Hyundai department store across the street, and a quiet residential neighborhood behind.

The rest of that afternoon is another post in the works…but what I took away from that day was a sense of peace. Not so much in the sense of finality or closure–there are always more unanswered questions–but by the end of the afternoon, I felt like I could come back home, even while balancing a deep feeling that I am meant to come back and spend more time in Korea. This is the liminal space I reside in now…being here, back home, settling into my routine, but knowing that there is more work for me to do in Korea.

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