Tuesday, May 19, 2020

In a Liminal Space

"Terminal One" by Smaku is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 2008, my son's favorite movie was The Terminal, starring Tom Hanks. It's an odd movie for a then-12 year old to love, but that was the year he got stuck alone overnight in Denver coming home from visiting his best friend in Oregon.

We have been stuck in all sorts of places (sometime our entire family together, sometimes just one of us) waiting on transportation - bus stations, train stations, airport terminals, subway cars, an elevator, and even a ski lift once. For a stretch of time, it seemed that every journey we took had an unexpected delay. What we discovered was a kind of routine for waiting.

It starts with anxiety. What's happening? Am I safe?

The fear gives way to annoyance. I have a connection to make! Or an appointment! Or a meeting! This is so irritating!

If the waiting continues, especially if there's no way to know when it will end, it shifts to frustration and anger. Maybe you pace. Or curse at the never ending phone queue with its relentlessly cheerful hold music interrupted by a disembodied voice assuring you that your call is important. But you know it isn't. Not to them.

As the minutes turn into hours and nothing happens (other flights board and leave, buses pull out to other destinations, the voice at the other end of the emergency phone just repeats the technician is on the way), there's a curious acceptance. You have always been in this elevator, stopped between floors. There is no day or night in the waiting room: the lighting never changes, the televisions flicker in an endless line down the corridor. Thankfully, the sound is off.

This is where you are now.

You have little control over anything outside of the room with the hard plastic chairs and the half-empty snack machine.

You dig through your carry bag and find a blank envelope and the stub of a pencil. You open it up at the seams, carefully, so you have more usable surface and you begin to write. Or sketch. Or create little origami animals. Or play tic-tac-toe with yourself as a crafty opponent.

The occasional announcements on the loudspeaker are unintelligible and at some point, you tune them out. Instead, you start to hum, and then sing. You realize that you remember a ton of show tunes and start to belt them out. You don't even like show tunes, but the acoustics in this elevator are perfect - like in the shower.

Eventually, your breath becomes deep and wide. The quiet is no longer something to dread. You're not even sure what you're waiting for. The graffiti on the wall behind you resolves into messages from your past and future selves.  They make sense in the way dreams do.

You know things will change, just not how.

And for now, that's enough.

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