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The Liminality of Midlife

How do I sit within the mid-stage of this ritual that is my life?

I am in a hurry. A big hurry. I am a whirlwind of urgency.

I have heard that you need to slow down to speed up. That urgent times call for a slowing, to fall into the unusual, to flow.

I cannot seem to locate this slow. I am fifty.

I don’t know if I actually “am” fifty but I have completely fifty revolutions around the sun on the glorious Earth of ours. I am in midlife.

Except that I am not. Or may not be. At twenty, we can project that we will likely, universe-willing, be around at forty.


We are not even halfway through, we tell ourselves. We have time.

I no longer feel that way. I am fifty. I come from generations of women who live into their nineties but even if I reach their achievement, I have passed the mid-line.

I have lost dear friends younger than me. My teenage music idols are passing into the hereafter. There is a shift occurring, a changing of the old to the new, as there always is. I suspect I am entering the old cohort. I feel its pull and I struggle against it.

I recall asking my mom years ago, when I was a teen and she, I now realize, was a youngish adult in her thirties, what is feels like to be grown up. She said this. “I don’t feel any different than I did when I was a teenager. People think we are grown up but you just feel the same.”

I find myself feeling that way now. People will exclaim to me, “You don’t look fifty!” and I think to myself, “I don’t even know what fifty means.” To look fifty. 


To be fifty. What is that?

Am I supposed to have deep wisdom, to have reached some pinnacle of knowledge, unknowable until you step into a milestone birthday? I do not. What I know more and more is that what I thought I knew, was absolutely sure about, is unlikely. The stasis of knowing is an illusion.

I am in love with the fact that I don’t know much. I have ideas, a lot to say, based on the experience gained within those fifty revolutions, but do I know they are true? Of course not.

The word I am in love with right now is liminal, liminality.

Wikipedia tells me the following (so it must be true):

“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…”

I am, with luck, in the grip, the maw, the space of liminality. When I am able to inhabit this space with appreciation, it is delicious, ripe with possibility. It is emergence, expansion. I feel drunk with the possibility of stepping through the threshold to something new. I am catapulting through space, unencumbered by gravity or direction.

In other moments, I thrash against it as if it is a cold sea at night and I have fallen in from a great height. I know neither up nor down and I cannot breathe. I am not sure which way to swim to burst through the surface. It is frightening, disorienting and I am fighting for my life.

Dwelling in this space between, this liminality, I am often distracted lover, an inattentive mother. I am impatient. I have so many things I want to write, say, capture, do, that it interferes with my ability to sit in the moment, to be where I am. I have to course correct constantly, thinking, “Where am I now? What do I need to attend to?” Tinkering, adjusting so that I don’t miss what is right in front of me as I tumble through time. 


How do I sit within the mid-stage of this ritual that is my life? When will I emerge? Will I emerge?

We have experienced the death of an elder cat in our family and the vibrations of that loss ripple through us. Ruby, my daughter, who is 6, asked me, “Are you going to die soon?” and I said, “No, of course not.” And she then said, “Will I die soon?” and I answered with an abrupt, “No! You have a long time before you need to think of that.”

So confident I sound in these responses, responses to questions to which I really have no idea of the answers. Because I cannot conceive of a world without her and I don’t want her to have to conceive of a world without me.

So it feels like I need to hurry, to get everything out, to ensure my songs don’t die inside of me, as they say. That urgency messes with the beauty of the now.

I imagine that I see a tall, knotted tree trunk that has fallen, creating a bridge across a deep chasm. I am stepping across open space, trusting the sturdy wood will hold me, that it knows I still have much to do.

That is what I must trust. The strength of that fallen tree. That is my time.

I take another step forward and I smile.

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Lea Ann Mallett

Lea Ann Mallett is a wild woman, activist, speaker, writer, photographer, midlife mama, radical joy warrior.

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