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Shorelines: A reflection on transitions

Updated: Mar 19, 2021

Earlier this summer, on one of the nights our family had eaten dinner outside, our children lit sprinklers and ran around in circles, dancing with them to make art in the air. Tears of mixed emotion streamed down my face as I watched, particularly my older son. He is at a transitional age in his life and it seemed clear to me that this will be the last summer he’ll be kid-like enough to join his younger brother in dancing with sparklers. He’s about to step into teenage years, where he’s bound to give more time to his friends and less to his family; where he’ll care more about fitting in than he ever has before. He’s in what a coach friend of mine calls liminal space: space that contains both sides of a threshold. He’s stepping into what is for him, unknown, and for me, feels dangerous.

Every couple of years, my family travels to an island off the coast of South Carolina. After the long drive, we are always eager to go straight to the shore, where land meets water, the edge. It’s beautiful to the eyes and the ears, and it’s also one of the best pictures of transitional space that I know.

At the shore, it seems clear: land ends, water begins. But neither this nor other transitions are so straightforward. Water doesn’t really end where the foamy edges of the waves subside – it continues into the air miles beyond the beach and we feel it in the humidity that invisibly touches our skin. Neither does the land cease to be – it only becomes more and more hidden by the depths of the ocean. There is no real end to either. Still, what it feels like to stand five feet on either side of the shoreline tells you there’s a difference. Feet in the sand, or body in the water. A big shift occurs in a small space, and that line holds all the tension, all the promise.

Graduations, birthday parties, retirement parties, and weddings tug on our hearts because they hold the line between two different realities on either side of the event. The honorees don’t change in the course of those ceremonies – I’m only a few moments older by the time I blow out those candles, and the ring on my husband’s finger didn’t fundamentally change him. Those ceremonies were built to hold us as we collectively step into the water, experiencing all the promise of the future and the grounding of the past.

Hospital rooms where our loved ones are born, and where they die. Airports. College campuses and kindergarten classrooms. The doorway to our new place of work. A blank computer screen onto which we will write our first book. They’re all shorelines: dynamic, intense, and beautiful. Also: frightening and potentially dangerous. How we hold ourselves, protect ourselves, move through, and watch out for one another, matters more here than anywhere else. More people get knocked down, hurt, or lost in the waves of the shoreline than they do on the sand.

What helps us survive and even enjoy transitional spaces? How we approach the ocean might give us some clues: We protect ourselves by knowing how to swim, or by staying where our feet can touch, by staying alert. We go with others and keep our eyes open for the people we love. We shed our shoes so we can feel the force of the waves under our feet. We take our time and we pay attention. We remember our relative size and strength and we respect the water. We see differently, hear differently, and feel differently.

What are the shorelines in your life and work right now? Where do you see endings meeting beginnings? How will you move through the transition in a way you can experience the beauty of it and protect yourself from the dangers?

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