Times and places of the margins
For me, marginal times and places are those when we feel a little apart – and yet often, paradoxically, more connected than ever. They are a sense of being in-between: liminal or transitory places in which I may move – or be moved – from one place to another. Places which are often vulnerable and yet safe, strange or weird and yet every day. In all of them, there is often a sense of redemption or transformation. For me, examples include:
‘Last night I was transported to a thin bar of sand in the middle of the ocean. The sand could only just be seen above the surface of the water; different currents pushed from east and west. A woman was driving the motorboat which left from a city in the East. Once on this margin of land I would be dropped off and face the unknown. The chance of another boat passing by and taking me onto the adventurous west. Or would I seek to return back with the woman in the same boat to the east – to the old familiar people and places I had just left? This margin of land represented decisions: how small, often marginal, changes can make all the difference.’
Awaiting the dawn
I go out and sit, still bleary eyed. Forms and colours are indistinct in the gloom. But there’s a cacophony of birds, even at this early hour. Eventually, the sun pierces above the horizon and through the gloom. Dewdrops on spiders’ webs glisten in the sun. Mist rises from the ground. Birds glide through the air.
I have a sense of new beginnings. The start of another day in which to love and cherish, work and rest, create and consume, struggle and win through. And to be aware of what I give to and take from the world.
I feel empty, alone, lacking energy or will. The inner void – often accompanied by inner yearnings and cravings – compulsions – and frustrations. Which way to turn? Stifle and suffocate the void by filling it with food and drink, stimulation and excitement? Or somehow learn to face it and discover what learning lies beneath it. Perhaps this was the real temptation of Jesus in the desert.
I love floating on the sea – treasuring that feeling of being on that fine line between sea and air. Feeling trivial – marginal – in relation to the immensity of the oceans and the skies and yet also strangely special and significant, a cognisant body in the enormous reaches of the Universe. Feeling connected to the world – imagining how the waters supporting me are connected to other waters which ultimately surround the whole world. Feeling supported – conscious of how the water currently under me has, in times past, supported boats, people and fishes in places as far afield as the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Exploring verges by the side of the road
As I drive or walk along the road, I notice the verge between the road and the fields.
The fields themselves are often places where the focus is on growth and productivity, efficiency and effectiveness; mono-cultural places where weeds are ruthlessly eviscerated and wildlife not encouraged. The focus is on how much can be grown and how quickly. The road represents the world of busyness and movement: people rushing from A to B and then back to A – or onto C.
In between these two worlds is the marginal world that is not usually noticed either by the growers or the travellers. It’s a place which is often ignored – or used for throwing trash away. But if we break down, the verge becomes the safety zone in which we seek rescue. It is also a place of diversity and colour for the plants and the insects and wildlife that are drawn to it. For me the verge is a place from which I can begin to see the world from a less privileged position.
Being with the dying
I spent some time as part of the Chaplaincy Team in a hospice. More often than not, the conversations were very matter of fact: the weather, football or people’s lives and family.
At times, though, the conversation went deeper: hopes and fears, successes and failures. It felt like sacred space.
The word ‘sacred’ comes from the Latin sacer, meaning both sacred and accursed. Being closer to the presence of death makes me also closer to the gift of life. Perhaps, as with so many margins, we need to bring death – the ultimate margin – closer to the centre of our lives.
Going beyond my comfort zone
My early school reports often spoke about me needing to ‘come out of my shell’. Perhaps that has been the journey of my life. As someone who would readily flush red at the slightest innuendo, or whenever I sensed I was the centre of attention, I was much more comfortable hiding in the shadows. Only gradually did I begin to come to terms with this. I well remember an intensive residential course over several days when, almost for the first time, I felt able to express my fears, doubts and questions in relation to sex and sexuality. Other areas where I have struggled are conflict (perhaps I love peace too much!) and money (I am too frugal!).
These might be examples of what the psychologist Carl Jung called the shadow: those parts of ourselves which we struggle to accept and therefore, often unconsciously, push into the margins. Jung understood that an integrated person is not one who has simply eliminated the sense of guilt or anxiety from their lives – who are fearless and wooden or buttoned up. An integrated person feels all these things, but has no recriminations against themselves for feeling them.
We are all unique. But often it doesn’t appear so because we compromise and try to fit in with everyone around us. As we become truer to ourselves, our uniqueness becomes more evident. Ultimately, we are all minorities of one, and the prophetic word invariably comes from the minority voice, not the majority.
Living in Bognor Regis
Say you live in Bognor Regis, as I do, and most people respond with a smile and quote George V’s (apocryphal) phrase of ‘Bugger Bognor’. Bognor Regis is geographically
marginal in part because it is on the coast. Bognor was described to me as a place of low self-esteem: few choose to come and live here unless they really had to. It recently came 96= out of 97 sea-side resorts in a Which? Survey. It’s a town with one of the highest rates of immigration in the South East, with people coming from throughout Europe.
What keeps me there? I love the social mix here more than in the more up-market (and expensive) and heterogeneous towns in the vicinity. Someone told me early on, ‘Bognor is authentic’: people are not trying to hide behind masks and keep up appearances. And without the people from Eastern Europe our care homes and farms would surely struggle.