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Standing Before Uncertainty

It is on a threshold, at the edge, where we are most able to alter our understanding of the world, and of our own lives in it.

— Gregory Orr *

Walking down a forest path on Whidbey Island in mid-November, I glanced up and saw this maple leaf pierced through by a thin twig, barely moving with the misty breeze. The path was thickly strewn with alder leaves, evergreen needles, and small pieces of branches coated with moss, evidence of a windstorm two nights before. The silence was palpable and deeply soothing. How this particular leaf had come to be suspended high above the others was a stunning picture of pure chance. It was impossible to predict its fate; would it hang suspended until its brittle skin gave way? Would the next storm blow it off its precarious perch? Or if I returned in the spring, would it still be there, faded to the color of parchment?

The day before my walk in the woods I had attended a gathering where the words threshold, uncertainty, risk, and vulnerability were used often. Those of us in the large hall surrounded by the woods I’ve mentioned were urged to be aware of times that we, like the maple leaf, are suspended awkwardly yet elegantly above where we normally would come to rest. I kept remembering Orr’s quote about a threshold being such an altering place.

A threshold is a place of transition, like the forest-encircled meadow I’d walked through that morning. It’s the place where trees root into soil, waves roll onto sand, where invisible breath turns to visible vapor, and old answers welcome new questions. It is also a dangerous, uncertain space where vulnerability reigns—the encounter between liquid and solid, open and concealed, wild and tamed, safe and risky, dark and light. As the word threshold also describes, it is a doorway where sometimes it is best to pause, and consider what one has just left, and what one is about to enter.

We are never immune to these transitional places. As Orr says, the threshold is ”…where we become aware that we are on the borderline between disorder and order…like standing at the brink of a cliff, or the edge of an ocean, or the beginning of a love affair.” A place simultaneously awe-inspiring and terrifying, where our senses and sensibilities are intensified, where we are awake and squirming with countless uncertainties and countless possibilities.

In this wild and uncertain season called autumn, where winter snows come early or temperatures vary by forty degrees in a 24-hour period, where the darkness envelopes and the desire to hibernate starts knocking on our bones and in our blood, pause in the face of uncertainty and breathe deeply. Occasionally, take a step back. Surge forward when the flow is beckoning. Stay open to the message that is wafting across the threshold. Do not, do not bolt the door against what is coming toward you.

*Gregory Orr, Poetry as Survival, 2002


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