One of the first times I got on a plane, I remember being mesmerized less by the crazy notion that I was several thousand feet above the earth and more by the notion that in a matter of hours I had gone from point A to point B and found myself plopped into an entirely different culture. A giant flying bus did more than leave the ground; it took me to a whole other way of thinking about and approaching the world. A big air-pressured container was built to take me out of my comfort zone. I’m still blown away by this. There’s this moment when you step out of any given airport and realize that “here” is no longer “there” and “there” isn’t really “here,” and everything immediately after that is all about negotiating those differences in order to navigate whatever comes next. In a manner of speaking, I feel like I could plot the last several years of my life into that metaphor of being dropped into point B and finding myself somewhere new only to begin again the process of collecting myself, surviving, then thriving. That is something I crave and love out of life. But it isn’t an easy way to go about your life, because it demands change and all the struggle that comes with that. It’s as if a caterpillar goes thru the hard process of becoming a butterfly, and you don’t really imagine the butterfly on the other side of the process going, “What do I have to do now to become a bird?” Maybe being a butterfly really is good enough. And I sometimes feel like I went from, “Butterfly was fun. Let’s see what turtle is like now.” The cocooning process is hell. But worth it. Too worth it.
On a similar tangent, I’ve been traveling a lot lately. A few weeks ago, I found myself taking two ferries (the first to Long Island and the second to Connecticut) to head north of Boston for a basic counseling skills workshop for adventure education with a group of social workers and therapists. Maybe it was the nature of how open-minded you might expect those folks to be, but the group cohesion happened almost immediately. It was as if we were plopped into Point B but all treated it as Point A together. We trusted each other right off the bat, maybe not because we chose to trust strangers but because we trusted ourselves and knew who we were well enough to be able to put ourselves out there with incredible honesty. It was one of the most refreshing experiences I’ve ever had – to be around people as eager as me to get to the heart of matters and skipping all the social pleasantries for something more honest. So ever since the workshop, I’ve been thinking about this process of entering a new community – the struggle of being your full self, the fear of being judged, the excitement of finding new people who mesh so well with you.
In the study of anthropology, there’s a concept known as “liminality” which applies to rituals observed in tribal groups. The technical term, deriving from Latin, refers to a “threshold,” a point at which a tribal ritual has begun but is not yet complete. In that space, in the betwixt and between, something magical happens – relationship. Actually, the technical term they use to describe it is communitas, referring to a shared, common experience which transforms the group into something new and can sometimes relate to the manner in which the group has been driven together by what it lacks and, thereby, what it seeks to attain or achieve together. The concept isn’t so foreign really: it’s the cohesion formed by a military unit of new cadets or pledges in a fraternity undergoing some form of hardship, if not hazing. It’s the awkwardness of twelve year-olds in a church confirmation class as they learn to question what it is they do and don’t believe – together. It’s summer camp and those first few moments when the kids are staring at their lifelong best friend whose name they don’t even know yet. They will be tested by the very normal experience of community and the hardships that come with the unfortunate promise that we will love each other and probably hurt each other, too, to hopefully learn to love each other again. Point A to Point B to Point A to Point B, and again.
So, this afternoon, when I found myself sitting in a small bedroom of a building built in the late 1880s that overlooks the Peconic Sound, I found myself again in the betwixt and between, among new friends, each and every one of us facing transition with worry and excitement, and I realized that I was where I needed to be, despite some awful allergies. There in the threshold was communitas waiting, and whatever was right ahead would be faced and endured together. The best of it and the worst of it, and what mattered was that we were (and are) “we” and not I. That as lonely as the cocoon can feel, it is a process all caterpillars encounter and endure. And what incredible hope there is in that. Even there in the upstairs of that 130-year old building, I suspect we weren’t the first people to sit there and realize the scary and exciting transitions that lay ahead for us. It had been done before and will be done again. Wherever you are, whatever you’re facing, I hope you can remember this much: there are other caterpillars in the cocoons, other people on the plane or on the bus, other campers in the camp, and we all – if we’ll admit it – know what’s come and what’s coming. And we can and will, if allowed or desired, hold one another in accountable love in that space. So, see you at Point B. …or will it be Point A? Or aren’t they really the same?