Liminality and my own rite of passage

Liminality and my own rite of passage

I was sitting at a small café in Mazunte, Oaxaca when I was overcome with an existential dread so powerful I started to sweat. My toes gripped the inside of my black EVA Birkenstocks, and I waited for the feeling to pass, or at least until I could pick up the dark brew in front of me and feel my face again.

To my left was a group of young women having breakfast at our long communal table. They had ordered coffees and baked oatmeal and were chatting amongst themselves. They were breezy and carefree as only the young can be, and as I listened to them, that overwhelming sense of dread enveloped me. My husband was eating his plate of eggs and bacon, oblivious to what had overcome me, and I looked down at my plate and closed my eyes.

“Missy, you are here. You are OK. You are sitting in this chair, and you belong here,” I whispered to myself. There’s a name for this feeling. The morning din of folks clinking their spoons and swilling their coffees lowered itself to a dull roar, and I contemplated the old feeling I had felt many times at every age, the one that tells me I don’t belong somewhere, that I’m out of place. The blood rushed to my ears where I could hear my heart beating furiously. Then it was over.

As I am wont to do in every situation, I tapped out several fragments of sentences and words to remember the liminality of the moment — this space in between where I was and where I ended up returning to. I love the word liminal. Wikipedia describes it as follows: “In anthropology, liminality is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their preritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.”

I find myself lately in a state of disorientation, ambiguity, having reached a stage of passage where I know who I was before but no longer am that person. I’m just past middle-aged, no longer middle-aged. I feel more alive now than I ever have, and this rite of passage hit me as I was having my breakfast at a small hipster café in Oaxaca.

I looked at the group of women beside and wrote these words to myself, “You see me, a woman just past the middle of her life, and think I’m a typical tourist. My comfortable shoes and shorts an unnoticed blip on your radar. I am painfully aware of the loss of my youth yet know the lushness that still awaits me. My heart beats for Mexico, this land so dear, more than you could ever understand. You are young and unburdened, and we are finally able to come here unburdened, unbothered. Which is more valid? Your youthful ability to travel or the hard-won time that’s unfolded for us?”

It is all valid — all real. And it crept over my face and inside me like the shadow of the sun as she slips our view for the night. Reading this fragmented paragraph dipped me right back into the heat of that tiny village on the coast, where I felt alive and seen and living each minute to my maximum capacity. We should all be able to do what we must instead of struggling inside a cocoon not of our making — a cocoon of expectations and responsibilities, one that sometimes we break free from, morphing into a butterfly that flies away. We should be able to do it with ease.

Liminal: occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. A threshold that is meant to be stepped through, because if not, the rite of passage is halted.

Melissa Herrera is a columnist, published author and drinker of too many coffees. You can find her book, “TOÑO LIVES,” at or buy one from her in person (because all authors have boxes of their own novel). For inquiries or to purchase, email her at

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