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.


Lea Ann Mallett

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

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JudiSanjay TrasyMelissa Rose RothschildMargoLJEames Recent comment authors
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Thank you. This is so me…. I am 53, single and no longer enjoying being single. I don’t feel old, but I feel like I am running out of time to find my soulmate, if there is such a thing. I have no children, just a cat :|.
I will try to keep the old, knotted tree visual and trust that at some point I will find what I am looking for.

Sanjay Trasy
Sanjay Trasy

Lea Ann,, you are so beautiful. Your thoughts and feelings resonate a common phase which we go through,, even I am going through. Though we don’t look, feel and fit into a midlife segment,, it’s no doubt a threshold set by the number of revolutions around the Sun. I too feel drunk with the possibility of stepping through the threshold to something new. Lea Ann,, you so very beautiful. I’ve lived 18250 lives already that is 50×365. I experience and rejoice my new birth with every sunrise. And now when I cross this threshold,, the number of lives ahead will behold something new. If I have ever learnt anything it’s the appreciation and awareness that I am a byproduct of Nature and that’s where I will find my Self. Best wishes and Regards. Keep in touch, Beautiful.

Melissa Rose Rothschild
Melissa Rose Rothschild

Love this , Lea Ann. Although the Latin “limen” reminds me too much of limit…
Our heads are crazy spaces to stay in for too long , arn’t they ? I certainly have pondered these “middle aged” thoughts but continue one step at a time… I have found the present to be the only comfortable, peaceful and joyful place to be.
The reality of time and age is somewhat humorous and whimsical to me mostly.
Yet I certainly have entertained all of the thoughts that you have captured here in your written word. May we leave a loving and helpful imprint on the face of this earth , however long that may be. It is such a wild and surreal trip, isn’t it?
Cheers to us for making it on this planet for this many years 😊🥂


I have to motivate myself, no one else can or will now. If I want something, I’ve gotto get off my backside and do it. I don’t wait for anyone else to do it. It’s very hard to be self-disciplined all the time. And if I lapse, I have to get back into it whether I’ve missed months or not. You got to start somewhere. There are certai things I won’t do, but I like my fitness. It makes you feel good, but I have to get there. While I’m there, I rehearse in my mind how I managed to get there. I overcame any obstacles, didn’t think too much about it and just went. It’s a good feeling if you can do that.


Thanks I needed to hear that from someone else! I am 56 and have been becoming more and more impatient over the last 8 years, steadily eliminating things I thought were important. Because I realize with less than half my life left, my parents deceased, children getting ready to leave, I had better get going! Never a day goes by that I don’t self check – what am I doing and why? This is that feeling of unsureness you describe. But I think it is a process of adjusting to a new focus on what is really important, Important to me, and important in the larger scheme of things. It is a see-saw – but on the upswing I see things I am exited about. I feel just as energized and exited and curious about new prospects as I did leaving for college. Only much smarter!
Great to hear your viewpoint!


This pretty much says it all….description accurate. I am 66 and I don’t feel it. …most of the time. Some days I don’t know if I should run like crazy or take it slow…I just dont enjoy hitting that proverbial wall!!



Karen DeBraal
Karen DeBraal

That urgency can kill. The hurrying mind doesn’t serve well, but I see you know that.

I get so weary of this you don’t look whatever business. That says a lot about the person saying it. I’m 58. There is nothing wrong or right or a way to look or not look or be. I AM 58. I am not the new 30 or 40 or whatever. I am 58. It just is.

As someone facing down a health situation beyond my immediate control, please, everyone, savor your beautiful life. It is a life practice, for sure, to deal with that hurry/worry/urgency/busyness.

Each moment is liminal. A pluck of a harp string, a flower blooming or fading, what the day holds as we arise.

I love your posts, Lea Ann. They are delicious.

Angeliki Anastasia
Angeliki Anastasia

Lea Ann you are the most beautiful, dynamic, loving mommy in the world!! You inspire me to be a better middle aged woman!! Thank you so, sooo much! 🏆💕❣️🌹🌟💫🌙☀️

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