Sitting here in limbo
Waiting for the dice to roll
Yeah, now, sitting here in limbo
Got some time to search my soul
Well, they’re putting up a resistance
But I know that my faith will lead me on
—Jimmy Cliff, “Sitting in Limbo”
on Another Cycle and The Harder They Come
A week ago, my wife Martha was exposed to COVID. She visited briefly with a friend outdoors; the friend later got sick. After we found out, we entered the period of limbo now so familiar to people all over the world. We wondered: if Martha were infected, which we knew was unlikely, when would she test positive? In the meantime, how careful did we need to be to prevent me from getting infected? What should and shouldn’t she do? How might this affect our plans going forward, including a trip to visit family on the East Coast? Suddenly Martha was hyper-aware of feeling congested, fatigued, etc.
We were lucky: repeated rapid COVID tests came up negative. Neither of us has COVID, this time. But this experience got me thinking about that feeling of being in limbo that we all experience. Waiting for the results of a diagnostic test. Waiting to recover from an illness, injury, or surgery. Waiting for a baby to be born or for someone we love to take their last breath. Waiting for a job offer. Waiting for election results. Waiting to see how a new relationship will unfold. A change or shift may have occurred, but the outcome may not be perceptible. In an initiatory process, an old pattern or way of living may have died, but the rebirth of a new way has not yet taken place. The untrodden path forward has not yet appeared before us, waiting for us to step onto it.
The word “limbo” comes from the Latin “limbus,” meaning “border, hem, fringe, edge,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. In traditional Irish spirituality, edges or “places between” can be entrances to the otherworld: along the shores of ponds, lakes, rivers, or oceans; during dawn or twilight; in mist or fog. When we are in limbo, we are neither here nor there. As Jimmy Cliff recognized in his lyrics, that can be an opportunity to “search our souls,” to explore spiritual spaces that we might otherwise have rushed past.
Fall Equinox can be a time of limbo. The hot, bright days of summer are mostly gone. The cold, wet, windy winter has not set in. If we can, we begin to slow down, hunker down, and stock up for dark days ahead while still being alive to glorious fall colors and crisp morning air.
How can we take care of ourselves when we’re in a period of limbo? Take time to rest, go slow, be quiet. We may be restless and impatient to get on with our lives. But we’re not ready yet. We’re in a place of emptiness, healing, and preparation, like the butterfly in the chrysalis, the moth in the cocoon. Our time to emerge will come.