Pushing Through Liminal Spaces

There is something inexplicably strange about seeing trains pass by my window every several minutes. It is not the noise, nor the frequency with which they interrupt the view of Arthur’s Seat that bothers me — if it can even be described as bothersome. No, after all, there are also cars and pedestrians that slowly fade from view under my window sill as well, yet I care not for them. Many of these elements have now faded into the background for me, already incorporated into ambient noise, like a car honk in New York City, or the sound of crickets at twilight in Montesquiou. Visitors might find it infuriatingly irritating, and will fixate on such sounds because it is not part of their daily environment; yet if they stayed long enough, in the same manner as bacteria adapting to medicine, they would become immune to it as well. We are creatures of adaptability after all. The very ability which has made us survive as an inherently weaker and slower species in a world that is savage and unforgiving is our adaptability. Humanity is stretched out across the globe, from the biting, bitter reaches of the Himalayas, to the cruel, seemingly endless expanse of the oceans. There are indeed other animals who can undoubtedly withstand these extremes better than us, but no other species can accommodate such a wide spectrum of life’s harsh conditions.

Is there a transport that better exemplifies our long reach across this planet’s nooks and crannies? A car can achieve much of the same feeling, but not on such a scale, with many dozens of passengers whisked through cities and landscapes at a greater speed. A plane is very limited in that we see very little. It is a greater transportation for distances, no doubt, but we are stuck in a tiny space, with only rare blips of variation in the clouds or ground below us. There is a much less palpable sense of change and exploring occurring to us at that very moment. Perhaps a ship is as good an embodiment of our strange desire to seek new horizons, but a train allows for both speed, practicality, and liminality. And this is where the inexplicably strange feeling that I am struggling to explain comes back into play. To be in a liminal state is to be in a ambiguous, transitional phase — as when one finds oneself at the threshold of a door. Neither in, nor out, but teetering at the edge of an imperceptible limit, unsure of which way one will fall. As a species, including our differently-formed ancestors, in any and all shapes in which they came, we have often found ourselves on this stage of liminality. Once, as evolution tells us, we were creatures of the water, but soon found ourselves pushed out into a dry, differently unforgiving environment that later would come to be infinitely more reassuring to us than the thought of dying a barren, oxygenless death. While these trains may not contain such extreme choices, they are nevertheless constant portals of liminality. The passengers gazing out at the passing Scottish countryside one minute, and briefly into a window at Brae House in Edinburgh the other, are churning through states of liminality. They are neither in Edinburgh, nor can it be said that they never were in Edinburgh, even though many would say that the latter is false. But after all, someone who walks straight through the city without stopping experiences something similar, only at a slower pace, and yet we would never say that she never went to Edinburgh. In every single one of these trains, with every furtive glance out the window, with every prolonged sigh and listless gaze, with every excited and attentive study from a passenger toward the transient scenery, there is a new liminal space. And when someone momentarily lays eyes on my specific window, to my own room in this gorgeous, timeless city, I feel a flicker of kinship that blazes and dissolves just as quickly as it appeared. It is a reminder that I too am in a liminal space — neither a true resident of this history, nor a simple passerby in the night — but these trains remind me that every barrier is merely a liminal space that must be overcome. I find myself at an imperceptible border, unsure of the way I will fall. I know only that I will fall, and I am confident in my belief that a host of individuals will catch me to soften my fall. I am arriving — let my journey begin!