Many, many years ago when I was a budding archaeology student, I also took courses in anthropology. Some were practical, such as bioanthropology. This explored hominid evolution from Homo habilis to Homo sapiens through their skeletal remains. Other classes were more theoretical, examining the invisible behavioural frameworks that compose different cultures.
I have to admit that I am not a big fan of theory. I like things I can see, hence the focus on archaeology—the objects people have left behind—rather than subjective patterns of behaviour or societal norms. As a result, I don’t remember much from these particular courses, but there is one term that has stayed with me: liminality.

It comes from the Latin word for “threshold”, and it is often used to describe periods of transition from one phase of life to another, for both secular and religious purposes. Almost every culture has its own ceremonies or rituals to mark these different stages and help the liminal person cross from one status to another, such as child to adolescent or adolescent to adult.

In the west, new babies are welcomed into a religious community with a baptism or christening. In China, infants traditionally received their formal name at a naming ceremony 100 days after birth. As we grow up, there are confirmations in Catholicism, bar and bat mitzvahs in Judaism, and quinceañeras in Hispanic cultures to mark the transition to young adulthood. University graduations and marriages have become the de facto way of marking adulthood proper, and funerals are the last ritual, designed to guide the deceased over the threshold from life to death and help mourners deal with their loss.

It’s a term I’ve been thinking about lately as we are at the time of year when you may be looking back at the year (or decade) that was and thinking ahead to the year to come. For me and MrElaineous in particular, we’ve had to get over the shock of trying to figure out where the last ten years have gone since we were married, and I still can’t quite believe that it’s been twenty years since I graduated high school.
Although there may not be any official ceremony to mark the occasion, discussing this on New Year’s Day led to a few interesting questions involving who we were then, who we are now, and who we want to be:

  • What do you think the you of 2000 would think about where you are in 2020? We both thought our younger selves would be pleased, if somewhat surprised, with how life has turned out, but I also think 2000-me would want to have published more writing. So that’s one of my goals for this year and the next decade!
  • What would 2020-you like to tell 2000-you? MrElaineous’s response to this question was to care less about what others thought of him, which is something that we all probably should strive for. My reply was less profound and more practical as I thought about the constant doing that had been programmed into me at that age—I’d like to tell 2000-era Elaine to just chill out.
  • What are your hopes for 2040-you? I couldn’t better MrElaineous’s response, which was to be fit and healthy. Seeing how fast the last twenty years have flown by, this is something that we are starting to work on now!

Whatever your goals are for this year, decade, or two decades hence, I wish you every success in achieving them!

Off the Beaten Track Wiltshire

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