Thresholds to Change
Learning to love the spaces between
David North didn’t design a doorway to imagination in the backyard of his rural Maryland home so I could have one in mine—but that’s what happened. It was mid-2020, the early days of COVID lockdowns, and the story of North constructing a free-standing stick-built threshold near his home resonated with me for weeks after I read about it.
As North tells it, he built the doorway as an act of catharsis when his husband, David York, developed health issues in the years before COVID. "Catharsis is accepting the realities of the problems that happen in our lives and doing something constructive with it—processing it," he says. "I feel creativity is a way to process it in constructive, productive, positive ways." The doorway shares space on the property with other of North’s creations—whimsical sculptures with names like fortitude, be opened, and welcome to wisdom that you can see on his Instagram. The pictures there are filled with joyful images of two elder gentleman, both with full grey beards, who wrangle chickens, share meals, create quirky YouTube videos and commune with family and friends. I don’t know these “2 Uncles”, but something about the world they’ve created, their response to uncertainty, and the visual cue of a threshold to nowhere (and everywhere) aligns with my deep curiosity about how people respond to thresholds to change in their personal and professional lives.
Of course, I’m not alone in my affinity for using thresholds like the door to imagination as a prompt for thinking about transformation and change. Storytellers love to place seemingly ordinary people in the extraordinary position of zipping between worlds through wardrobes and over bridges to places like Narnia and Terebithia. We learn about Dorothy’s drab black-and-white life in Kansas and the Technicolor of Oz where she is forced to face challenges—and face herself—before returning home.
And it’s not just fictional characters who enter these portals of change and transformation. Most cultures have rituals and traditions to celebrate transitions between shifting identities and life worlds, like moving into adulthood, marriage, or for death and dying. Even if some of these rites of passage have lost their gravity in the bustle of modern life, we create formal and informal rituals to mark passage of time—whether seasons of the year or the seasons of life. We cross symbolic thresholds like graduations, birthdays, and holiday celebrations like New Year’s Eve that prompt reflection on where we’ve been and speculation about what comes next.
But what happens in the space between?
Dorothy’s Kansas may have been drab, but it was familiar and predictable. Oz was strange and magical, but it didn’t take long for her to find new friends and make some sense of it. But I wonder. What was it like for Dorothy in that cyclone? How did the children feel in the darkness of the wardrobe on the way to Narnia? And, for us humans experiencing our own times of transition and transformation, what do we need to learn to live in the space between the What Now? Moments in our lives and what comes next?
As the end of 2021 approached, many people I spoke to were hopeful that the worst of the pandemic was behind us and that we could begin thinking about life post-COVID. A light at the end of the tunnel. A chance for a fresh start. Then came the new variant (I’ll spare us the O-word) and we were thrust into the reality that living with COVID is likely a marathon and not a sprint. And COVID is not the only uncertain transition we face in 2022. These are liminal times in all aspects of our lives as we rethink and renegotiate what it means treat one another with dignity, engage with inequity, care for the planet, and reimagine what it means to live a good life at home and at work.
So, what if David North is right. What if the task ahead is neither to get back to normal nor to find a way to move forward, but to accept that we are in liminal space between where we were—and who we were—and some other way of being that has yet to emerge. What if we pause long enough to ask new questions and take action to explore new ways of living, working, and engaging with one another? What if 2022 is less about a fresh start and more a time to engage in our own unique expressions of creative catharsis—for ourselves and in service to others? I think about these questions every time I walk out of the house and see my doorway to imagination…