The Space In Between
I was talking to my best friend on the phone as she sat in the airport. She had just said goodbye to her parents, leaving them to face the results of her father’s biopsy and aching that she wasn’t able to stay and support them in his illness. She was waiting to start the 5-hour flight to return to her three kids and husband, who were keen to see her after their time apart. She said she was torn. She wanted to be with her family but also wanted to stay and help her parents. I was struck by the strangeness of the space in between.
For those of us for whom Egypt isn’t our passport country, the space in between is something that we know well. Whether we are going or returning, there is always a pause between saying ‘goodbye’ and saying ‘hello’. Whether the journey is long or short, there is a sense of being in suspension, when we’ve left but not yet arrived.
This space can bring with it a mix of emotions. Sometimes it can be wonderfully freeing. It is a space where we have no responsibilities, no obligations. Nothing is expected of us on the journey other than journeying (notice that I’m blocking out the fact that parents still have to deal with their children on the journey!) It is the perfect opportunity to stop and be. It is often the case that no one knows you on the journey. You are free to be who you want to be, there are no expectations upon you as an individual (aside from the expectations to behave appropriately in the airport!). I remember the flight that my husband and I took to begin our gap year. There was a distinct sense of leaving behind who we were and venturing into the unknown. We had the opportunity to be and become whoever we wanted to be – it was a sense of being free.
Sometimes the space is very necessary. It is one of the things often bemoaned about the speed of modern-day travel for the expatriate – the space in between is over too quickly. Sometimes the journey is the only opportunity that we have to process and prepare – to process what we’re leaving behind and prepare for what lies ahead; whichever direction we’re going. In years gone by, when journeying was done by boat or by train, the ‘in-between’ could last for weeks on end. This gave travelers a significant time to reflect and ready themselves. In the modern world, this time is still greatly needed, but over far too quickly. Physically, we are speedily transported from one world to the next, but our emotions and feelings can be lagging behind.
Sometimes this in-between time is challenging. For my friend, it was a lonely and difficult vacuum of time, where she felt wrenched in two. I remember sitting in Heathrow a couple of years ago following the bachelorette party of my sister-in-law. I had had a whirlwind of a weekend with young women who were mostly unmarried and without children, feeling free of the responsibilities and mundanities of parenting. Sitting in the airport, I was aware of how easy it would be, at the moment, to walk away from it all. I felt that I had to make a specific decision to return into the fray, to the role of mother and wife and that I needed to use the few hours of the flight to prepare myself for the battle!
The space isn’t always a journey. My friends and I were involved in running the 5th International Food Fair at the BCA last month. Once the event was over, a group of us sat together in a tired haze, enjoying the moment, relaxing in the warmth of the evening. No-one wanted to move, because upon moving, we each had to face things we’d rather put off – preparing dinner, tidying the house, putting kids to bed. My husband and I enjoy the space in between whenever the children are watching TV. We often find ourselves in the kitchen, stealing a minute or two together, stalling before facing the inevitable disappointment, bickering, noise and chaos that ensues after turning off the screen.
This season reminds me of a significant pause in history. Easter is the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but the time between the two events is a definite space in between. A time when Jesus’ disciples would have been trying to process, unknowing of what lay ahead. And sometimes, the space can feel like a vacuum – an unpleasant place of waiting, not knowing, feeling out of control.
Sometimes we need to make a little space in between for ourselves – allowing ourselves to step free of our lives for a moment, from the demands on characters, the pressures of our roles. That may look like time away by yourself, escaping the city, going to the beach. It may even be as simple as taking refuge in the house of a friend (where washing the dishes is not your responsibility), stopping for a coffee during the weekly shop, or simply sitting on your balcony and listening to life buzz around you.
The space in between is something that can be experienced by each of us in different ways, at different times. Whatever emotion it conjures up, there is an art to just sitting in that space, of accepting it for what it is and enjoying the fact that, just for a moment, someone has hit the pause button for us.