“I don’t yet know who I am today.”

It is May of 2023. I am talking with my son Yigal as we take a long walk in the rain together. “I was Hedyumi-Yumihedy for such a long while, I am needing to be a redefined me.”

With my beloved soulmate Yumi leaving this realm, my life has completely changed.

Many years ago, I made a commitment: “I will live my relationship with my beloved Yumi as powerfully as I possibly can. And together we will teach what we are learning.” I find myself continuing to learn through my relationship with my beloved just as it is now, in the space between no longer and not yet.

As John O’Donohue, the Irish poet, priest and philosopher, says in his writings about Thresholds: “Think for a moment how, across the world, someone’s life just changed – irrevocably and permanently – and everything that once was so steady, so reliable, must now find a new way of unfolding.”

Yes! I am standing on completely new ground in a transitional period of my life, in the mysterious gap between what is now and what will happen next. As a life voyager of discovery, I’m on the creative and unsettling journey towards a re-defined “me.”

I have learned that this gap, this transitional period of life, has a name. It is called “liminal space.”

The American Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr, defines “liminal space” as follows:

“It is when we are betwixt and between, have left one room but not yet entered the next room, any hiatus between stages of life, faith, jobs, loves, or relationships. It is that graced time when we are not certain or in control, when something genuinely new can happen … it is the ultimate teachable space.”

The word “liminal” is derived from the Latin “limen” which means “threshold.” John O’Donohue describes being at this threshold as follows: “At this threshold a great complexity of emotion comes alive: confusion, fear, excitement, sadness, hope.” Melissa Cohen, a clinical social worker and the founder of A Redefined You, says: “Uncertainty can be very uncomfortable, lonely, overwhelming, paralyzing, emotionally demanding and mentally exhausting.”

“Beware of the monsters,” my cousin Gardy says to me, when I tell him that I find myself in “liminal space.” He is basing his warning on this quote by the Italian Marxist philosopher, writer and politician Antonio Gramsci from his Prison Notebooks: “Le vieux monde se meurt, le nouveau monde tarde a apparaitre; et dans ce clair-obscur surgissent les monstres.” My cousin said it to me this way in English: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in the interregnum a great variety of monsters appear.”

And so John O’Donahue gives wise counsel. He advises “… to take your time, to feel the varieties of presence that accrue there, to listen inwards with complete attention, until you hear the inner voice calling you forward saying: The time has come to cross.” This challenge, says John O’Donohue: “… demands courage and also a sense of trust in whatever is emerging.” He adds: “Especially at such times we desperately need blessing and protection.”

And so to receive blessing and protection, I was inspired to join a Jewish Renewal community on a weekend Shabbaton Retreat. Melissa Cohen recommends opening up possibilities and asking the question: “Why not?”

For me, this Retreat was a profound and miraculous Kosher Choreographer experience, both unsettling and peaceful.

One of the workshops I attended was Storytelling. An assignment our leader gave us was to write a personal story for 10 consecutive minutes, and to keep writing with no editing whatsoever. I then shared my story with the whole group, barely able to talk, because of the powerful grief bursts that accompanied my reading.

Here is what I wrote:

“I came to the Claggett Center, my first outing after my beloved Yumchick entered the Palace of Hashem. I was glad that my good friends Syd and Enid picked me up. And I was glad that my good friends Elizabeth and Rick were there and greeted me when I arrived. What I did not know was that I would not be able to sleep the first night. I realized in the morning that the Claggett Center was the first place I went to where there wasn’t a memory of Yumi and me together. Everywhere I have gone till now has had Yumi’s presence in it. And I see his smile. I feel his touch. I sense his presence. Here there is no Yumi. And I suddenly realized that I have taken another major step in living my new life. My old identity “Hedyyumi” is gone. My new identity is not yet there. I am living in “liminal space,” in the terrain of not-knowingness. I came knowing that I would do a Shabbat by myself when I return from the Retreat. I knew I wanted to get prepared for that experience. I did not know how perfect the Claggett Center was for that preparation. I see myself sitting at the Shabbat table, across the picture of Yumi that I put on the wall, a picture of his splendid face, with his love and compassion shining. I will be sitting stronger because of this time of welcoming being ‘SOLO’.”

Yumi Schleifer, 2022The picture of Yumi on the wall.

Sayings were put on the dinner table for each person to take. Waiting for me was a saying from the Zohar, a foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as the Kabbalah: “A husband and wife are one soul, separated only through their descent to this world. When they are married, they are reunited again.” I have decided that I am not a widow, but rather an “eternal soulmate.”

Three months have passed since my beloved Yumi took his last soft breath on January 23, 2023. I said to my friend Lynda: “My grief is deepening. I feel more pain.” And she sent me words from Henri Nouwen, the Dutch priest, writer and theologian:

“Real grief is not healed by time … if time does anything, it deepens our grief. The longer we live, the more we become aware of who [he or] she was for us, and the more intimately we experience what their love meant to us. Real deep love is, as you know, very unobtrusive, seemingly easy and obvious, and so present that we take it for granted. Therefore, it is only in retrospect – or better, in memory – that we fully realize its power and depth. Yes, indeed, love often makes itself visible in pain.”

In this “liminal space” I now live fully, I am embracing all the learnings and every bit of the pain as I walk the walk, step by step. As the Spanish poet Antonio Machado says: “Traveler, there is no path. You create the path by walking.”

Writer T.S. Eliot, in East Coker, the second poem of his Four Quartets, advises the following:

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

The poem continues:

To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.

As I am embracing “liminal space,” I am realizing that in order to learn what I need to learn, I must start with not knowing. And in order to have what I want to have, I must start with not having it. To arrive somewhere truly worth going, and to have what is truly worth having, there is often no other way.

Here is another picture that I’ve put on the wall that is so important to me.

Hedy and Yumi Schleifer 2022

I am experiencing a marked deepening of grief about not having my beloved Yumi with me in his physical manifestation. I can see now that the growing grief has to do with more and more life experiences I will never again share with my soulmate Yumi in this realm. These experiences are accumulating as I step into the journey of daily living. And I realize continuously, at a deeper level, the true meaning of our profound and exquisite love. With time passing, I consciously embrace more and more deeply what I unconsciously took for granted: the richest, most beautiful and thoroughly simple flow of love.

As Henri Nouwen says, I now know that with time passing, my grief will continue to deepen, because I am blessed with a bigger love than I even knew.