Are All Transitions Created Equal?

It’s become pretty clear to me over the years that I am not the best at handling transitions. I mean, sure, an onlooker may dip in and see that my whole life up to this point has been a series of really big transitions, all pursued and fought for and secured by yours truly, but I’ve always felt that there is a bit of lag time between my body taking the leap and my mind catching up. All of my dark night of the soul moments have arrived with predictable regularity — knocking at my door as soon as one chapter has ended and I haven’t even begun outlining the next one yet.

However, I have recently made the very interesting observation that while I am not a master of Life (with a big L) transitions, I am, in fact, very much a fan of daily life (with a little l) transitions. You know, those little in-between moments that feel like twilight in the summertime, the twenty minutes before your mom calls that dinner is ready, when you are still running around barefoot on the grass with your neighbors, all of you knowing full well that you will have to call it a night soon and get back to your family issues around the dinner table, lapping up the present moment without gripping on to it too tightly.

I’m talking about those little pauses that are sprinkled throughout the day, that are altogether necessary, unavoidable, and intriguingly pleasant. Like sitting in the car before you go inside, for example. I’ve always found that I sit in my car for a little bit longer than is necessary and definitely normal after I’ve pulled up in my driveway. Even if I was so excited to be getting home — I still relish in that moment where I’m suspended in between the “getting there” and the arriving. I take a beat. I soak up the cocoon that my transportation vehicle offers, breathing in those rare seconds where there is nothing more to accomplish and nothing yet to get to doing.

And then there’s the classic shower example. It’s a well-known fact that stepping into the shower is a kind of mental and emotional panacea. Heartbroken? Take a hot shower. Stressful day? Hop in the shower. Need a good cry? Tell your roommate you’ve reserved the shower and let it all out, baby. It’s also the ultimate transition moment — your alarm’s gone off but you’re not quite ready to start the thinking and the doing and the planning that comes with waking up, well, good news! You’ve got to shower first. A shower is very necessary and also a convenient escape from Life because you can’t really be doing anything else besides all the rituals and acts of bathing yourself while you’re in there. No emails can be checked, anyone who calls will have to leave a voicemail. And yes, I’ve got to decide if I’m going to keep the size medium or just return the dress altogether, but excuse me, I simply must shave my legs first.

There’s the restaurant table before the food comes, when everyone has already put away their phones to be polite and present and there’s full water glasses but no appetizers. A full table of people who don’t know what to do with their hands and aren’t used to so much sustained eye contact is a great catalyst for creative, engaging conversation.

There’s the in-between meetings moments, when you stop in the work kitchen for tea and a chat. There’s Monday mornings in the office before 10 am, when everyone is still kind of mingling around, chatting about the weekend, eating their yogurts, kind of checking their emails and also kind of still reciting their morning affirmations. In a few minutes an invisible force will take over and everyone will suddenly be very busy with important, urgent things, but just for a moment, everyone is still kind of human, recognizing how funny it is to all be sat together in rows stressing out over Excel spreadsheets and email pings and Kind Regards, when really we all just want to know if the person sitting next to us is as tired and confused about life as we are.

There’s all the times (pre-cell phones) when we sat around waiting for other people — our friends to meet us at the mall, that boy to meet us at the movies, our moms to pick us up. And walking from point A to point B! Before the proliferation of technology, when we had to get ourselves somewhere and that was the sole task.

These daily transition moments provide me with so much respite, I think they may ultimately be what is getting me through each day.

All of this has made me think — what’s the difference? Why can I value those little beats so much, almost to the point where they are part of my personality, my defining features (Hi I’m Madeline and my favorite parts of the day are sipping my lemon water in the morning before real life begins, driving the long way so that I can time it to that Spotify playlist, and taking the dog for a walk because it’s one of the rare things that is a break from The To-Do List but still required and satisfying in its completion), but I absolutely rage against the machine of Life just trying to keep turning its wheels? Big transitions are also completely necessary, and can be exciting and full of rest if we let them, but somehow we seem to focus much less on the opportunity for space presented and much more on the gaping black hole it presents.

Maybe it’s the difference between minding the gaps in between stepping stones and leaping across the whole river. The little break from regularly scheduled programming that a shower affords is not really comparable to the canyon-sized rift that is created when, say, a relationship ends, or you’re in the weird early-adulthood limbo between college graduation and learning how to do taxes (and how to stay hydrated). But if we take the size of the unknown out of the equation, the sheer time spent in that transition, is there a way to conceptualize them in a similar way? Can I view my period of unemployment with excitement and gratitude for the time I’ve been afforded to really get clear on what I want next? Is the whiplash we feel after a major life event actually just the Universe (or God or Spirit or Earth Mama or Santa Clause or the colors of the wind or WHATEVER, not important) gifting us with a metaphorical inflatable stunt mat? We’ve just been flipped upside down, the stability of the known ripped out from under us, so here’s a spot to land that is both completely neutral and oddly hard to pry yourself out of. RIGHT?! Like, it’s really hard to actually turn off the shower and step out onto the cold tile and begin the process of toweling off. And it’s also kind of hard to actually lean into a life upheaval, see the plethora of options instead of lack, and produce momentum that only you can truly generate to move yourself into your next chapter.

I guess what I’m getting at is that yes, change is hard. All change, whether it be a move to a new city or a new hot-desking situation. But maybe the memory of pleasant in-betweens can act as a sort of soothing salve, reminding us that the only thing differentiating twilight supper calls from the last three pages of Life: Chapter Two is the way we conceptualize the space in between.

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