The Lovely Month of May

May is usually a lovely month in most of the continental United States. This year it’s been a bit unusual. Here in central Texas, it was nearly 100 degrees most of last week though this week it’s only in the upper 80s thanks to a front that also brought snow to Colorado. But that variability is part of the fact that spring is ending and summer is beginning. May is a month of transition.

On campus, it’s also a time of transition. Commencements, a word meaning beginning that we use for the final celebration of academic years and college careers, happen throughout the month. Commencement season lasts into June for high schools and universities on the quarter system. The ending of one season blends into the beginning of the next unevenly, but routinely.

On campus, there’s a moment when one semester is over and the next one hasn’t started. It might be a couple of weeks or a couple of days, but there’s a moment when it’s possible to stop and take a breath. A day when it’s possible to eat in a restaurant near campus that is usually packed. There’s a week when it’s possible to take stock of the year wrapping up before we dive into the next program, event, or course. There’s a moment in between. It’s a moment of liminal time.

“The word ‘liminal’ comes from the Latin root, limen, which means ‘threshold.’ The liminal space is the ‘crossing over’ space – a space where you have left something behind, yet you are not yet fully in something else. It’s a transition space.” (Alan Seale)

I’ve written about the idea of liminality before and it continues to fascinate me. Liminal times are both mystical and every day. We experience liminal time every year in May – one year has ended, the next has yet to begin and it’s still an unknown. It’s a very normal experience. But liminal time can also be an uncomfortable time. Maybe we’ve outgrown our current job and know it’s time to move to something else, but we don’t know what that next something is. We have to live in the discomfort of the unknown for a while. We’re in unfamiliar territory.

One of the advantages of having had a long career is that I’ve had more chances to experience liminal space and time. I know to take advantage of the bits of calm on campus because I know they don’t last. I don’t waste them. I’ve learned to live with the discomfort of being betwixt and between, of knowing it’s time to change, but change how? Early in my career, I needed to leave a position and I almost took one that would have been the wrong one in a variety of ways. Turning that offer down and waiting, and waiting, led me to a job that was a huge step forward. Being willing to stop, wait, take a breath, and live in the discomfort, I learned an important lesson. It’s where I learned the advice I give to many people – unless you are in a truly toxic, harmful situation, do your best to be moving forward to the next thing rather running from the old thing. But it’s hard to do. It takes practice. It takes appreciating those moments in the day to day so we recognize and know how to respond during the big transitions.

Liminal space is time in between and we can experience it in many ways. But here in the lovely month of May, don’t forget that it’s a threshold, a moment in time to be cherished. A time to choose, a time to breathe rather than rush, and a time to listen to what’s important at that moment. Use this time of in-between to refresh, renew, re-create, and rejuvenate. May is a lovely month to do all of those things.

Take care,


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