The Liminality and Languish of Lockdown

Ann Rennie, Companion in Mission from Melbourne, Australia, shares a reflection of life during the long lockdown. Ann teaches English and Religious Education at Genazzano FCJ College

As Sydney celebrates its opening up, in Melbourne we are still in late throes of the liminality and languish of lockdown. We are slowly riding that liminal travellator which will eventually move us to the beyond of this time withheld and waiting.

Nothing much appears to be happening in the suburbs as activity is suspended, denied or limited, except for the cabals of coffee drinkers gathered on pavements and jealously eyeing off any bench, seat or bus stop to legitimately bide awhile. But things are still going on, imperceptibly and inexorably, in a deep tectonic way that changes us elementally. And we in Melbourne know about such shifts with that unexpected morning tremor of a couple of weeks ago. It was a bit scary as it jolted us out of the somnambulance that has become something of the pattern of most of the days of the past eighteen months.

During this period of pandemic, we have been enduring. Some may say that the length of this has set us to languishing, that mental state that gets up and on with it, but where the joys and juices of life are not coursing through our veins in the normal liveability of our days. Our hearts are not in it as listlessness builds without the formal structures and frameworks that keep us active and engaged. An insidious shapelessness threatens as we WFH and disconnect from the camaraderie of corridor banter. We remain resilient, but it is a purse-lipped stoicism.

We are missing the routine contentment of the daily and ordinary.

As we navigate a world whose only constant is change, we ready ourselves for the dismantling of old paradigms and the invention of new ones. The Covid-19 pandemic has sharpened our own critical understanding of leadership and accountability and has also seen social fissures grow. These disruptions may be disconcerting as we adapt to new cultural mores and social expectations. We are in the midst of the global rewriting of the human contract, hoping it prioritises the common good for all. There are buds of hope opening, buds that will bloom into global betterment, buds that augur a new flourishing.

Liminal moments occur during rites of passage. We move from the expectant woman to mother, from student to graduate as we await university results, from parent to grandparent, from worker to retiree, from child to adolescent to adult. Life events such as the loss of a loved one, divorce or being made redundant can propel us into the liminal state where we are not who we were before. We are in a state of in-between-ness where there is no going back, only a forward momentum that we may or may not recognize at the time.

It is no longer life as we have known it. This is where we are as an Australian society today… changing from one way of living to another. In-between, poised on a threshold between then and next. This liminal waiting time is simply a holding pattern as the new stage comes to fruition. This may mean the letting go of plans and lifestyles and the imposed external limitations that have bound us to one way of being. Sometimes our old patterns and predilections may need to be disrupted so we can claim our better selves. There will be gradual re-shapings in the way we live as a community, that much spoken of “new normal”.

Liminal moments are portals to the other side of self. They create deep immersive opportunities to recalibrate. Sometimes these liminal moments are the bliss of sudden consciousness, a sliver of revelation, a blaze of cosmic synchronicity, God.

For many Melburnians, we have been suspended in a lockdown liminality that has required a certain fortitude to keep going, to put our game faces on as we jolly ourselves along because others need us to be cheerful and constant.


Perhaps the long liminal weeks and months in Melbourne have been transmogrified into a collective languish, an eighteen-month blur where our normal rituals have been suspended and we have become a paler version of ourselves. Perhaps, too, we have had this unaccustomed time to think about the lives we lead and a new consciousness has awoken from the slumber.

For me, dawn and dusk have liminal qualities as they act as portals to morning and evening. They are the talismanic in-between.They are times of prayer and promise. Their very indistinctness is invitational because it is subtle and incremental, those immeasurable moments of moving from darkness into light and vice versa. I love the marbled blush of morning when the world is still asleep and hope brims the horizon. Before I know it, the clouds have rearranged themselves into apocalyptic gold and within minutes the full promise of morning is heralded. I love the shades of violet that steal in after the sun has set, deep-set tendrils wrapping up the sky in this crepuscular interlude. It is a melancholy time; that wistful evensong, a time for solace and soothing as the day slips away and we wonder if we have used it well. In these liminal moments that bookend my days, I can imagine anything. These moments are mind-altering in their lucidity.

They create a new spaciousness within me.

They limit the languish.

I do not need a passport for my magical thinking or the hopes I hold ahead. I know that this time will pass; this time that sometimes feels like it is Phillip Larkin’s time torn off unused constrained as we have been in the recent circumscription of our lives.

I know that brighter days beckon.


Read other contributions by Ann Rennie on our website. Learn about the FCJ Companions in Mission.

Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash