Taking a brief stroll in the sun this afternoon, I walked past “Clarence Gate”. Meaning, I had never heard of “Clarence Gate”, and as I walked through it, enjoying the blossom on nearby trees, I almost entirely missed that I’d even walked through a gate. I’m not sure what caught my eye. Maybe the unassuming sign on the railings. But it stopped me in my tracks. It’s a dull, uncelebrated bit of history, serving no purpose. Presumably listed.
Like the visual artist Clare Lewis, I’ve always been fascinated by “liminality” – in-between times, places, spaces, states. Often so deeply uncomfortable for the human psyche, which in general prefers certainty, solid ground, a well-triangulated location. Learning to tolerate, lean into, even celebrate The Unknown, usually takes a lot of courage and training. Even though “the” reality (whatever that means) is that so much of our life is made up of the unknown, if we dare to admit it. Seeing and photographing Clarence Gate put me in mind of liminality again.
As I carried on my way, I started wondering how many long-forgotten gateways exist in me. How many times have I been on the threshold of something, in an in between place that seemed never-ending, longing for solution, resolution? The agony of an unsolved situation, unknown answers; that painful place – especially in therapy – between understanding a self-defeating way of being in the world, and being able to change it.
My supervisor recently reminded me that, when we’re stuck, or disheartened (she was recalling an often arduous trek along the Camino de Santiago), there is much to be gained from turning and looking back “whence we came”. Seeing the peaks, valleys and stony pathways already behind us, already mastered. How easy it is to forget, almost instantly, how much of a problem something was for us, once we’ve surmounted it. How many long-forgotten gateways exist in us, where we once stood agonising and full of despair? How heartening it could be, when we find ourselves yet again standing in a gateway, to remember that one day, the gateway will have disappeared from view, un-marked, un-remembered, despite its enormous significance to us in this moment.
No more than 100 yards further along the road, I came across this.
The connection between the two thresholds wasn’t lost on me. It suddenly struck me that, if I’m going to have to stay for a while in a transitioning space, if I’m going to have to confront it again and again, perhaps I can look for or create beauty there, look for the art of it, and not forget that the doorways themselves can be celebrated, not just the spaces they separate.