As the snow begins to melt after last week’s storm, and the calendar flips from February to March, I am reminded of the torment and the power of the in-between times. March in North Carolina is an in-between time. It can be cold (35) and rainy like it is today or sunny and warm (75) as it promises to be tomorrow. It’s neither here, nor there, and there’s no certainty about what to expect. It’s difficult to plan and dressing is a layered affair.
Despite the ups and downs of the weather, the birds know what’s on the horizon. They are already in full spring song. They have awakened from winter survival mode and the drive to mate and procreate has set them in motion. As they prepare for new life their song reveals the joy of new re-birth and the new beginning that lies on the horizon.
Life is a series of transitions. No sooner do we land in a place we’d like to stay, than it is time to move on. Something shifts or changes and we are called upon, once again, to adapt and change. Sometimes we are grateful for the change and sometimes we are terrified by it. Either way, the in-between time is one of not quite knowing who we are, what to do or what to expect.
Transitions come in all sizes, from the large life-altering external events such as marriage, birth, and death and the internal shifts of puberty and menopause, to day to day shifts in interest and focus, such as tiring of one hobby and searching for a new one, or finishing one book and looking for another. In all cases, the in-between times trigger an uneasiness, a restlessness and an uncertainty about what to do and what is next.
When we can step back from our discomfort and see the in-between time, as a period of gestation, of fertility, of alert waiting, just as the birds surely must wait and prepare for a mate and birth of their young, we can perhaps avoid falling into the trap of self-loathing, fear, anxiety and despair that too often moves in to fill the gap. To elevate our viewpoint to one of open expectation, standing open to everything and afraid of nothing, ready and alert to the next challenge or adventure, is to understand and accept that transitions are a part of life, the driving force within and behind our inherent drive to create.
It’s no coincidence that major religions incorporate traditions that include the symbols of birth, death, and re-birth into their yearly liturgical calendars. In the Christian tradition, for example, the season of Easter celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and takes place in unison with the re-birth of nature. The season of Lent is a period of preparation, symbolic, if you will, of the in-between time. (The word “Lent” is short for “Lenten” which refers to the forty days before Easter and comes from the Old Enlish word “lencten” meaning “springtime or spring”.)
One can see how important the “in-between” time is to the process of transition and transformation within the Christian tradition when seen through the eyes of the Lenten season. For forty days and forty nights, Christians are admonished to fast and pray, and essentially to wait with an open heart for new life. One need not be a practicing Christian to understand and see the value of taking time out from focusing on everyday demands, from having to have all of the answers and knowing exactly what is coming, to prepare oneself, to realign priorities, assess values and activities, to pare down and create space for a new beginning.
We are a culture that thrives on activity and production. In-between times of non-activity and non-production are perhaps even more important to the final outcome. After all, if we are not ready and prepared, waiting openly and expectantly, creating space within and without, but are instead buried in activity or anxious mental gymnastics, how can we hear or see what is right in front of us?