Living in-between histories – Phil Allen, Jr.

Phil Allen, Jr. is a Ph.D. candidate at Fuller Theological Seminary where he is a Pannell Center for Black Church Studies Fellow. He is the founder of the non-profit Racial Solidarity Project and author of Open Wounds: A Story of Racial Tragedy, Trauma, and Redemption (Fortress Press 2021) and The Prophetic Lens: The Camera and Black Moral Agency From MLK to Darnella Frazier (Fortress Press 2022).


I remember well the textbooks in school that informed me and my classmates of American history. If those books and their respective authors and editors were to tell it, American history is one beautiful progression in democracy (with its “flaws” of course) that has been inclusive of all and affords equal opportunity for everyone to the “American Dream.” If those textbooks had their way, Black history was a mere footnote in history with token mentions of figures such as Frederick Douglass, Harriett Tubman, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  

I was fed a steady educational diet of white paternalism, white benevolence, white innovation, and even white godliness despite the reality of Native genocide by European explorers, 246 years of enslaving Africans, Jim Crow segregation laws along with that era’s record of lynching Black bodies—over 6,700 documented and thousands more undocumented, and Japanese incarceration camps. Like many others, I had internalized this messaging that conflicted with what I had been exposed to at home and at church.

In my home I knew about the great Black poets of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. I was drawn to the brilliance of Benjamin Banneker, architect of the city design of Washington D.C. I was enamored by how activist Ida B. Wells fought courageously against the lynching of Black people. Even later, I was enamored by the stories (slave narratives) of enslaved Black men and women who used their bodies to set an example for protest and resistance that we witness today. Henry “Box” Brown, a formerly enslaved Black man, who literally mailed himself to freedom by hiding inside of a wooden crate destined for the North. Harriett Jacobs hid herself in a small room in a White woman’s home for seven years until her master stopped looking for her and she could eventually escape to freedom.

These are the stories that are also internalized, but at times their legitimacy was questioned because of the hegemonic hold white-controlled narratives held on my educational journey. The same hegemony is evident in my theological journey. I was taught (even in Black churches) to worship an “ideologically photoshopped” European Jesus who was ethnically Jewish from the region of Palestine and who was ontologically Black (poor, a refugee, from the margins of society, and falsely accused and executed). I have lived between the histories of White and Black folks, between hegemonic and marginalized perspectives, and between assumed superiority and assigned inferiority—neither with any roots in reality.

Recently, I had an intense conversation with a man who had mentored me for sixteen years. He began to share social and political perspectives I did not know he held. They were triggering for me, to say the least. I have never in sixteen years disagreed with him, certainly not passionately. This time I was compelled to share views that differed theologically and politically, as well as historical perspectives than his. Inevitably, race(ism) became a central topic and this was the point of no return. He spent most of his time trying to distance himself from sounding racist but he was  unwilling to enter the “in-between” space with me. He was much more comfortable with his binary approach to the historical narratives and political viewpoints. He echoed the lessons taught to me by those textbooks that executed the selective erasure of history from People of Color and he continued to accentuate the Anglo presentation of America (what he called a “sheep nation,” a reference to Matthew 25 and the narrative of God judging and separating nations as a shepherd separates sheep [righteous] from goats [condemned]).

He fought to protect his fragmented understanding of the gospel (personal salvation) while I invited him to visit the integrated gospel (salvation and justice, personal and collective) that I believe Jesus preached. Whether secular or religious, I have had to live in the tension of seemingly conflicting histories that should be in conversation with one another. This liminal space is necessary if for no other reason than to hold hegemonic narratives accountable to the whole truth, including the aspects of history that are incriminating to the group/class in power.   

He decided he did not like the “contentious” conversations (two) we had over the weekend. He ended our mentoring relationship. While this saddened me, I found this to be a common response by some “friends” of mine who vigilantly guard their vision and version of American history, to simply cut off the conversation at best or the relationship at worst. Living in-between histories can be a painful reality. Living in-between lies or half-truths and reality is disorienting and lonely. Yet, it is in this space where there can be so much revelation. In between histories one can winnow falsehood from truth and lead individuals and the masses to a more healing and life-giving understanding of where we came from so that where we are headed is not a repetition of the underbelly of history but its glimpses of promise.

Living in this space is not necessarily a perpetual state of tension. This space holds as much of a capacity to reorient one’s vision and worldview as it does to disorient. Unstable terrain, while it is uncertain ground to stand on, has the capacity to strengthen muscles that ironically atrophy because of steady ground. Truth offers steady ground, but in terms of historical narratives, accounts from the margins must be in conversation with, and challenge dominant accounts of history. It has the capacity to draw people into solidaric expressions of community as much as it can divide communities. Through a certain lens, it is the tension of this space and the factors that create it that give opportunities for seeking an alternative consciousness to cross over the threshold into an authentic community unafraid of the good, bad, and the ugly of its own narrative. 

That Space between, that Time between – Mary Farrell

Margins and Thresholds (Aguirre, Quance, Sutton & Soto: 2000) has been of significant importance to my engagement with the study of silence in human interaction. Such a rich area of study has profited by allowing me to focus on multiple themes using the concept of liminaltiy.

The working definition I use is taken from Chapter 2 of the above volume:

In its weak sense, liminality is the property of the middle, intermediate, in-between event or state or object. In a strong sense, it characterizes areas of active mediation: i.e., areas which actively function of conveyors of features (values, structures, techniques and so on) between cultural systems. (30)

Since I have been concentrating on the place and time where silence occurs in human activities, I have adopted and adapted both the weak and the strong senses to come to an understanding of the gap in which apparently nothing is happening.

Using the lens of liminality I often find myself reflecting, thinking about and pondering on the idea of the interim. One of the strengths of this concept is that of providing a framework for my study.

Basically, my interest lies in the gaps such as those that exist between (1) implicature and inference where communication often goes awry, (2) between expectations and their realization, (3) between anticipation and finality, and (4) unsuspected cultural clashes due to lack of awareness of Bourdieu’s distinctions between habitus and field.

For each of the following areas of reflections there are several examples to explore. The format is rather Whitmanesque as it is made up of lists.

To begin comes the liminal area of doubt: the primed white canvas, the blank sheet of paper, the imagined project. It lies between I-can and I-won’t-be-able to. Perhaps procrastination is a frightful zone of impotence. Then, the ever-frequent gap between remembering and forgetting can be a disturbing in-between place. There are also gap sounds, empty of meaning, an attempt to hold on to an idea or to cover up silence: umm, oooh, my, hum, etc.

The list continues with the gap between implicature and inference, expectations and fulillment

Conversation: zones of multiple misunderstandings (1) such as political discourse on the media in forms of empty debate and talk shows, (2) families as in American Beauty, Sam Mendes (2000), (3) Art a play by Yasmina Reza (1994), in which three friends argue over the non-content of White on White by Malevich (1998).

Painting: Edward Hopper’s Sun in an Empty Room (1963) teases viewers to beg for a narrative, which is absent, an example of horror vacui.

Literature: (1)Emily Dickinson “This is my Letter to the World) #441, experiencing the emptiness of not publishing. Painful waiting. (2) Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence (1921), silence to ensnare. (3) Need for silence and solitude for creativity, Doris Lessing’s “Room 19” (1978).

Film:  The adventures of Jeramiah Johnson, Sydney Pollack (1972) a chance group of three caught between habitus and field in silence. Eine Stadt sucht einem Mörder, (M, the Vampire of Düsseldorf) Fritz Lang (1931) brilliant filmic portrait of the absence of the missing girl

Series: Police procedurals of all sorts in which the police use silence to intimidate, and the accused, to unnerve the police.

Dance: Merce Cunningham’s choreographies with no music. An unidentified YouTube composition Three Dancers: the Silence of Dance (April 11, 2011) has just pure movement with no music or sounds.

Music: John Cage’s 4”33’ (1952) thwarted the first audience’s expectations for meaningful sound.

Education: Nicole Prescott, a Miami tribal member, in her article “… Native Cultural Identity” (2009) says that “Native Americans who were removed from their tribes became liminal beings—outcasts,” (336) neither fitting into the White world nor their traditional tribal world.

Places: (1) Prisons, Anthony Ray Hinton spent 28 years on death row until reprieve came. (The Guardian, October 16, 2016). (2) Concentration camps: If this is a man (Se questo è un uomo) Primo Levi, (1947). (3) Orphanages where children wait silently for someone to adopt and love them. Asha Miró Daughter of the Ganges, a memoir (2003), (4) Upper-class English and Austrian Boarding Schools: Roald Dahl in Boy, tales of childhood (1984) tells how his real feelings were suppressed in the mandatory format of the letter home. Der junge Törless (1966) film by Volker Schlöndorff based on Robert Musil’s book The Confusions of Young Törless, (Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törless (1906) Törless is humiliated into silence. (5) Residences for the Elderly where people looking silently into the distance waiting for death. Own observations. (6) Insane asylums. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest a Milos Forman film (1975) based on Ken Kesey’s book (1962). The Chippawa Indian remains purposely silent until offered candy or gum at the very end of the film.

Society: (1) In-between people: the deaf, the autistic, the paralysed among others frequently live in liminal gaps of the misunderstanding so-called normal people. (2) Internal Fantasy zones of becoming other: Cinderella, Pretty Woman film Gary Marshall (1990), Pygmalion G.B.Shaw (1913), My Fair Lady Alan J. Lerner ((1964), Superman comic written by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster (1938) during hard years of economic disaster time to drown reality in dreams. (3) Ceremonies: Turner’s rites of passage from childhood to maturity such as (a) the Hebrew BarMitzvah and BatMitzvah for children turning thirteen to mark their age of adult responsibility. (b) Fraternities and military initiation rites, often sadistic and humiliating. (c) Religious periods for becoming a full member of the group. Monks and nuns spend years from the postulant phase through the novitiate stage to the final vows. Much of this time is spent in silence. (4) Classes as in the series Downton Abbey (2010-2015) by Julian Fellowes, distance between the superior and the lower. (5) Castes film The Exotic Hotel Marigold (2011)

John Hadden. An English woman says “Good morning” to lower-caste cleaner, who in turn is amazed, for her role had always been invisibility and silence. (6) Ranks in the police and the military can be used to keep whistle-blowers silent. Naval silencing includes the story of the Spanish Armada, as well as being a commonplace in the hierarchy portrayed in Detective Novels and Army films. (7) Racial Passing: secrecy and silence are the key elements in maintaining their cover. White like her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing (2017) by Gail Lukasik, and One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life: A Story of Race and Family Secrets by Bliss Broyard (2007).

Closing reflection

Of course, there are many more gaps and interims where silence is a key element. There could be examples in my interest of silences in Science, Medicine, Sports and so on. For the moment I offer my closing reflection.

A good working theory such as that embodied in the concept of liminality has honed my abilities to gain an understanding of how the many hidden silences function in human interaction. For thresholds and margins we have the sea and the shore which overlap always leaving an undetermined liminal area.

So much depends on a bad earache – Mary Farrell

Mary Farrell is a retired professor of English literature at the Universitat Jaume I, Castellon, Spain. She is a poet and essayist whose main research includes American literature, silence in communication, and cultural studies. Her many publications include an essay on liminality and film in “The Art of Liminality,” in The Liminal Loop: Astonishing Stories of Discovery and Hope (2022).

The Peripatetic Rites of Passage of Peter. W. Nesselroth, (1935-2020) Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature, University of Toronto

Much of what I include here is from his autobiographical essay “So much depends on a bad earache.”

At five years old Nessie escaped with his parents from Berlin to Antwerp, Belgium then to Brussels where at seven he was finally separated from them. Until he was nine, he moved from place to place, from language to language, from religion to religion. The strangeness for him began when, in 1944 Nazis took his father, who looked at him and shook his hand: “I knew this was a very dramatic interaction, but I didn´t know what was happening at the time. And I was still in pain from my earache.”

He says at one point that “Lady Luck in the form of an earache was his patroness.” To separate him from his parents the Nazi policy allowed him to be sent to a The Jewish Hospital for Children where his otitis was treated. As a very young wandering Jew he lived in a series of liminal zones. Two non-Jewish wives to Jewish husbands visited him; then just walked out of the hospital with him. An older lady took him along with a small child, and paid people-smugglers to get to Switzerland. He was then sent to a Swiss foster family. With them he worked in the fields. There at nine he learned to read and write in French.

In the meantime, his mother was given the job of accountant for the inventory of stolen Jewish possessions. Her skills, plus her contribution to the black-market run in the Auschwitz, saved her life. At the end of the war in 1945, she was sent back to Brussels. There the Red Cross helped her to unite with her son. Finally in 1950, when Nessie was fifteen both he and his mother were able to settle in New York.                                                                                                                                                       

Nessie had been helped by Catholics, Protestants and non-religious people. In turn he took on different religions until his Bar Mitzvah in New York. He moved from German, his home language, to Flemish and French, finally to English. He says: “My wandering-Jew years have given me an aura of cosmopolitanism and a sense of gallows humor.” He viewed those years, those liminal years, as “…a curse stemming from the evangelist Mathew’s account given in Chapter 27 in Verse 24 when Pilate says: “I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.” And in Verse 25: “Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.” (Bible, King James Version, Regency, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

Tripminality – Gabrielle Malfatti

Gabrielle Malfatti, EdD, is the Director of Global Engagement and Associate Teaching Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Missouri.

Alaska Air flight 388 is delayed at the gate waiting for a passenger and the required paperwork to be completed when the airplane door has to be reopened as it has been now. I find it endearing that this delay is being accommodated in a world that feels so rushed all the time.

This flight is one I’ve been waiting for since 2021 when I was awarded a Fulbright International Education Administrators grant to visit Taiwan for two weeks. Originally, we would have been there in March 2021 but COVID caused a two year delay. Although I have taken international flights to Greece, Colombia, Rwanda, The Netherlands and India in the interim, this long awaited flight and the experience it ushers hold a liminal quality to it that caused me to reflect differently about it.

Having been awarded the Fulbright IEA to Taiwan at the end of 2020 and looking forward to those experiences in spring 2021 was significant to me because the prior March I had had to cut short a visit to Taiwan as the pandemic was raging in Europe and U.S. airports were closing their runaways to planes from abroad.  As a naturalized citizen of the U.S.  the news of closing borders while I was abroad generated an added uneasiness to the situation. My return to the U.S. was made eerie by going through the deserted Kaohsiung airport, and then Tokyo’s Norita, where every flight but mine had been cancelled.

I had not realized, until initiating this trip the emotional brackets leaving Taiwan in March of 2020 and returning to Taiwan in 2023 have in my experience of the pandemic. Having had to wait until now to return to the place where the global impact of it first became real to me creates consecutive, circular, threshold crossings that make me wonder if we’ll ever get out of the spiral this planetary pause became for some of us. It is as if this return to the place where it all began for me makes me aware of some sort of veil clouding all that has happened in between and what has not been allowed to happen.

The aspect of my life most affected by the planetary pause is my work because it revolves around international education, and it feels changed in profound ways that make me long for a return to how it used to be. There is a sense of loss and I ache for lost momentum, I ache for the carefree sense of adventure my students had when traveling to non- traditional destinations, I ache for the years of missed human interaction at partner schools abroad, I ache for the sheer excitement I shared with students preparing for a Teach Abroad program every spring. I had not seen it before getting on this flight, but I definitely sense now that my eagerness of returning to Taiwan goes beyond the excitement of the Fulbright. It holds the promise of making it be over, really over. And maybe, just maybe, it holds the magic of a new beginning illumined by a light break from the shadows that engulfed us individually and collectively which having been so prevalent became invisible to us. Has a new day broken for you yet?

The table between goodbye and hello – Nicole Conner

Nicole Conner is a narrative therapist working in Fitzroy North and Berwick, Australia.

Hospitality is a universal practice – an attitude, an act of life that speaks of welcome and belonging. It is a global language spoken across cultures, religions, and timelines. It is a way of finding meaning in human connection, a way of being with one another. In its nature, it is a constant amongst impermanence and transition. Hospitality is transformational – turning strangers into friends, fear into understanding, exile into belonging, and, potentially, hostility into peace. It is an island of reprieve amidst the rapids and sharp rocks of life. We can easily place hospitality into the ‘cake & tea’ basket – sentimental, syrupy, and impotent. However, I would argue that hospitality in its truest sense is radical, scandalous even! And it can be a source of comfort and healing for those who find themselves exhausted, lost, and disillusioned between the threshold of ‘goodbye’ and the not yet realised ‘hello’.

My parents and I arrived as fresh immigrants to South Africa in the early 1970s. We had migrated from northern Germany. It is hard to begin to describe the overwhelming feeling of ‘lostness’. South Africa was so very different from the place and people we had left behind. The heartache of goodbye felt like a heavy burden, and with every new person we met, and every new experience, it felt a little bit heavier – reminding us we were far from ‘home’. Perhaps, the biggest thing that reminded us of our ‘outsider’ status was the language barrier. No one in my family spoke English or Afrikaans or Zulu – so every form of communication in our new world took an enormous effort, filled with trepidation and a sense of shame.

A young Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote that the ‘limits of my language mean the limits of my world’ (Tractatus, 1921). This thought, of course, became a key part of the philosophical movement of the early 20th century known as the ‘linguistic turn’. I don’t want to get caught up in the arguments that surround his assumptions or whether our lives can be limited to what we can verbally explain. However, as a young girl I did discover that my language, my mother tongue, was foreign to the country we had migrated to. Yet my language defined my world and brought sense and meaning to my life and existence. That language, and therefore my meaning and world, did not translate and was not understood in this new, strange country. We were locked out because we could not understand the way this new world functioned. Our ‘mother’ was another country, culture, and tongue. We had said ‘goodbye’ to her and our ‘hello’ to Africa was lost in translation.

Our neighbours next door were Afrikaans-speaking South Africans, and across the road lived English-speaking South Africans. What they had in common was their love to share a meal with others. So our ‘lost’ little family found itself around their dining room tables, eating, drinking, and communicating with hands and feet … and laughing. Slowly we began to learn the languages that were ‘mother’ to our new home. We were able to share experiences and even decipher the many nuances of humour. Our neighbours had set a table for us and bid us welcome. Their table was like an anchor in the restless, and often stormy, oceans of change and transition. Amidst all the other experiences, it was their kindness and hospitality that provided the first whisper of hello. It was their table that turned strangers into friends. It was their table that spoke a language we understood.

Henri Nouwen writes, ‘Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines’ (Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, 1986). Gracious, radical hospitality is a reprieve from the often arduous liminal path. To be welcomed and invited to enter and be, not come and change, brings with it a notion of sanctuary and safety. It reminds me of the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. Jesus invited himself to the table of an ‘outsider’. A table that was despised by the religious powers of the day. A table that had room for the messiness of what it means to be human – a coming together, laughing, drinking, being … and in the mystery of those moments Zacchaeus said goodbye to some actions and paradigms. It was in this table moment that he recognised things about his life that were no longer valuable or meaningful to him. This awareness also allowed Zacchaeus to say hello to a new way of being, and a new way of treating those around him. It seems to me that the table is not only a strategic shelter between goodbye and hello, perhaps it is the very instrument of the transformation, the great interpreter of all languages, or the language itself.

I am forever grateful for the many tables of radical hospitality I have sat at over my life. They have changed me, challenged me, and reminded me that even in confusing, transitional times in my life I am still connected because someone has made room for me around their table. So I look at my ginormous dining room table and the many folks that have sat around it over the years, laughing, crying, telling stories, and recognise what a privilege it is to have a table in the threshold, where we find the other, and differences are no longer obstacles.

Hospitality should have no other nature than love.” Henrietta Mears

Don’t Mourn the Past

Should you mourn the past?  
To lament for what might have been. 
Remembering the pathways unpursued.  
The could’ve, would’ve, and should’ve of life’s potentialities. 
Piecing together the riddles of before.  
Unsolvable they remain, puzzles unexplored.  

What do you see when you look back?  
Lost opportunities you’ll never have again.  
Despairing over what might have been.  
A step here and there on unknown paths. 
Each revealed over the span of time. 
Dreaming of possible futures.  

Didn’t anyone warn you?  
Some doors close once they’re opened.  
Others lost, never discovered again. 
A million possibilities gained, a million more lost.  
Transitional moments come aplenty.  
Reshaping and making the person you are today. 

Whom are you mourning for?  
For a person who never was.  
Someone you think you should be. 
Choices that seem more appealing now. 
Mulling over a distorted past. 
Hindsight is not always honest.  

Why are time’s tricks so deceptive?  
Growing older doesn’t always bring wisdom. 
Distortions that filter your perspective. 
Look at yourself and the paths you’ve taken. 
Rather than those unrealized paths from long ago. 
Avoid the past’s siren song. 

Have you ever considered yourself? 
The beauty your story reveals. 
And the transitions you navigated.  
Don’t glamourize what might have been.  
Appreciate the wonder of each step you’ve taken.  
Celebrate each step that brought you here to 




For a New beginning – John O’Donahue


In out-of-the-way places of the heart,

Where your thoughts never think to wander,

This beginning has been quietly forming,

Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,

Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,

Noticing how you willed yourself on,

Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety

And the gray promises that sameness whispered,

Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,

Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,

And out you stepped onto new ground,

Your eyes young again with energy and dream,

A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear

You can trust the promise of this opening;

Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning

That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;

Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;

Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,

For your soul senses the world that awaits you.


From his book, To Bless the Space Between Us

Reaching out in shared Chaos

I participate in a joint program with Ukraine and the United States that trains and certifies Ukrainian mental health professionals to address the vast trauma of war and its aftermath. The certificate program includes extensive teaching, learning, training, and supervision. American and Ukrainian mental health academics and professionals act as teachers and mentors. This takes place over Zoom, with the eight hour time difference. A translator is always present translating from Ukrainian to English and back again.

With increasing Russian missile attacks on civilian targets and infrastructure, utilities are always uncertain. Power blackouts are frequent. Wifi service is often interrupted. For example, in the case of my regular translator who lives Kiev, the electricity was out in her apartment building this week. To find Wifi service for our meeting, she drove to a nearby service station to find a signal. When that didn’t work, she cruised in her car until finding a community Wifi. Her car is her office, equipped with laptop and auxiliary batteries. More than once she has Zoomed in from a parking garage outside a hospital.

I work regularly with a supervisee in the program, and yesterday the electricity was out in his office, so he had to drive to a metro station to catch Wifi to Zoom in for a meeting, then back to his office to meet with a first-time client in the darkened offices. When we Zoomed in the evening, he was back at his apartment, that did have electricity at the moment. He said that utility crews are exercising super-human effort to get everything back online after attacks. “Imagine,” he said, “we are a European country in the 21st century and we are actually uncertain if we will have electricity, heat, water.”

These counselors deal with all of the garden variety mental health challenges anyone would see anywhere, and all of the trauma that accompanies war: fear of attack, separation from family, deaths and losses, relocations, and deprivations. Like chaplains serving in the front lines of the military ministering to their troops, or mental health workers in the midst of a disaster, these persons are in the midst of crisis, chaos, suffering, and vast uncertainty. And yet they stay. They serve. With resolve.

These are liminal guides, serving in extreme liminal circumstances, among a collective of persons experiencing complex social liminality.

My role, minor as it is, involves walking along side a liminal guide who is liminal himself. In addition to whatever insight might be shared, I am striving most to stand in solidarity, walk alongside, share the common humanity, to dwell in the land of deep darkness until the light shines. Kyrie Eleison. Господи помилуй

Liminal Essay Contest for University Students

The Liminal Scholarship of $500 will be awarded to the winner of a 700-1000 word essay on some aspect of liminality found in the short story “The Stretch Motel” in S.K Kruse’s Tales from the Liminal. Students must be enrolled in an undergraduate program in an accredited university for the 2023-24 academic year.

The submission deadline is January 31, 2023. The award date is May 31, 2023.

For full details, a link to the short story, and the online registration form, click here.

Resilience in Liminal Space – Laura Gaines

Laura Gaines is a clinical social worker specializing in resilience, trauma informed care and mental wellness. She provides training, coaching and consultation for helping professionals. She writes a weekly blog about resilience at

Resilience in Liminal Space by Laura Gaines

I am going to make this work.

I will focus on the positive.

If I just try harder.

As misery, and exhaustion seep into my bones I don’t remember when it got to be so bad. So much energy spent maintaining the fragile peace. Don’t disrupt; be cooperative; pay attention. As long as I am agreeable, we live happily in this bubble. Life is perfect… Isn’t it?

There is no way out.

I can’t do this.

I want this to work out.

Don’t I?

The first step was miniscule, pointless really. I decide to grow my hair long. We don’t have long hair. We like our hair short, so we see Tessa every 6 weeks.” I am tired of short hair; I want to grow it out. “Your hair looks best short, you know that.” Sigh. But then I tell Tessa what I want. She responds, “okay,” as if it is no big deal! “I will cut your hair every other visit and even then, I will only shape it up as it grows out.” With a look aimed at me, “She looks best in short hair.” Tessa replies, “perhaps but she wants it long; she is ready for a change.”

I am ready for a change.

I try to repair this life we have.

This perfect bubble is not perfect.

I am so tired.

I extend an invitation to change with me. We can adjust. But we can’t. The bounds of the relationship stretch and then snap back, painfully, like a rubber band. I can no longer keep the peace. I imagine a different future. I break silence and tell people. They do not say I am selfish, wrong, ridiculous. They act like it is normal to desire more.

Again, I invite change.

“Yes, yes, I will allow you to grow your hair long”.

That is not the change I am looking for; I am alone on this journey.

There is no clear way forward.

I daydream about possibilities. I take small steps. People act like it is normal for me to show up at book club. The bubble shudders, struggling to contain two futures. No one knows the battle raging. Cracks appear and are mended. There is too little room. I pay attention, I try to create calm. And yet I keep stretching the bounds.

I am selfish.

I am myself.

I quit apologizing.

The bubble has stretched beyond all limits. It strains, shreds, and I am asked to save it please, please! I can’t. I don’t want to. I accept that this is over. All the compressed rules and expectations explode. Fury, fire, destruction. As the embers settle, I wake alone in a new room. Knowing the stages of trauma doesn’t stop them from happening.

All change is possible.

I will focus on the positive.

I am going to make this work.