I remember the first time I crossed an ocean. I was onboard a red-eye flight from New York City to Manchester, England. I’ve never been able to sleep well on a plane, and certainly not this time. Everything was new, and I was too excited for sleep. I spent much of the flight with my face pressed to the glass, watching the Atlantic Ocean by moonlight. The upper humps of scattered clouds passed below, bright with moonlight. I landed on the threshold of a new day, literally. The plane had to wait a few minutes for the runway to clear before it could land, so the pilot took us on a slow circle around the airport, giving me a 360-degree of the sunrise.
It was the first day of a semester abroad. The details of my adventure overseas are a story for another day: it had its ups and downs, its moments of wonder and homesickness. But the most important thing it gave me, I think, was a better sense of the world and my ability to move through it. I had gotten aboard a plane and arrived in a different country. It was something that Could Be Done ™.
A threshold was crossed for me, and in crossing, a part of me never went back.
Fantasy plays a lot with this idea. The adventure doesn’t begin until Bilbo leaves his house, or Wendy flies out the window, or Sabriel leaves her boarding school to cross the Wall into the Old Kingdom. Or it could happen the other way: something arrives from the other side into what is familiar, like a mysterious stranger on your doorstep.
But the liminal space does not even have to be literal. And it certainly is not limited to fantasy. It could be a decision made, or a turning point reached. Either way, the crossed threshold represents a vital change: a point after which there’s no going back. You cannot un-cross a threshold. Retreating back does not undo the fact that you crossed that point. Even if you’re the only one who knows you crossed it.
The Adventurer returns home, but it’s never quite the same.
This is not to say one should avoid crossing thresholds. Far from it! Sometimes doing so is a necessary choice. Sometimes it’s inevitable. Certainly, growth requires it. My only wish, my brave adventurers, is if you choose to pick up your lamp and leave your home and walk out into the unfamiliar, be brave. Be wise. Be kind. Be clever. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.