April 26, 2020

Liminal Space

Eighteen years ago tonight, I was helping out at the door of the old Seattle South End Square Dance at Lakewood-Seward Park Community Center. Back then, I had really long hair and my friend Laurie Hampton would trim it every few months. Afterwards, she would blow dry it, performing magic by making an elaborate braid. That day was one of the prettiest she had ever done. I looked in the mirror and wistfully said “Oh, Laurie, if I ever get married, will you braid my hair this way for my wedding?”. I had just turned 47 and was not optimistic to say the least. But then, that night at the square dance, in walked a man about my age whom I had never seen before. He danced a little flatfoot jig when he heard the music, spoke to many people there as if he knew them (he did), and the rest is history. A year to the day, Laurie once again braided my hair, this time for my wedding.

Hope can be hard in times like these. Disappointment and fear can block it. That time in my life was hard for me because I had always assumed I’d get married and have children. I felt a certain amount of shame that those things had not happened. So I tried to build a life that was as full as could be without those things, assuming I might be alone for a long time, if not forever. I had many friends and interests, I started learning to fiddle when I was more than forty (I am late bloomer in many ways), I hosted the Canotes’ String Band Class at my house every week, had meaningful work at a Community Health Center working with AIDS patients and others, and became a member of Old Time String Band “Big Eyed Rabbit” as second fiddle. I was happy with my life, which meant I was ready to be a better partner than I would have been when I was younger. What a lucky woman I have been!

And lucky to be living in Seattle at this time of this pandemic. This New Yorker article explains why we have been able to flatten the curve here compared to New York. And it explains so clearly why our national government is failing now. The CDC actually has a playbook for managing this. Having a non-partisan spokesperson that always starts the press conferences with a “Single Overriding Health Communication Objective” or SOKHO can build trust and would help us avoid the conspiracy theories and distrust that has brewed over the past 6 weeks. They also would always start off with words of compassion and acknowledgment of the pain and fear people are having, both medically and economically. Imagine where we would be if we did not have this fear, distrust, and anger? I am very saddened about this, it is costing lives, increasing costs economically, and increasing fear and division. I truly believe Public Health is more important than politics. It is about doing the right thing for the most people.

And society is opening up again, whether we are ready or not. People are antsy and have cabin fever. Hopefully, local public health departments will be able to keep up and keep tabs of infections so we can slow things down again as necessary. Contact tracing is a wonderful tool. But there are concerns of a rapid rise of infections if we open too fast, so those of us at risk need to stay vigilant. The R0 (R-naught) that I talked about on April 17 will be more important and we will be hearing more about it.

And here we are, waiting, about to emerge, now standing in this “Liminal Space”, which is a waiting space between two worlds, a threshold to a new life. We are not going back. We are all in this space now due to the pandemic and the effect it is having on the world and our lives. I have been inspired and calmed by an essay about liminal space from Richard Rohr, a very wise Franciscan monk from New Mexico. We are together in this uncomfortable and scary place, those staying at home and those protesting. We can choose to move forward as we will. I am holding on to hope that we can take the time to build a better world and see all of life as valuable, not just our tribe or species. I see that as the neighborhood children step aside as I walk towards them on my daily walks, recognizing me and my status and giving me space. I am honored. Learning to see others like this is one gift of this liminal space. Let’s remember to keep seeing, really seeing, each other, as we move into the next space.

Wash your hands (my SOKHO)

And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/05/04/seattles-leaders-let-scientists-take-the-lead-new-yorks-did-not

https://cmmid.github.io/topics/covid19/tracing-bbc.html

https://betsybrownmd.substack.com/p/april-17-2020

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/23/world/europe/coronavirus-R0-explainer.html

https://cac.org/between-two-worlds-2020-04-26/