Cross cultural communication has proven to be more difficult than I thought in marriage. Before getting married to someone from another country and race, I had expected that communication between us would be a time to shine with free-flowing understanding and empathy. I also imagined the two of us laughing about why we choose certain words over others and how we say things differently than the other, despite both speaking English. But it wasn’t like this. There was a root language barrier preventing us from true understanding and I realized it wasn’t limited to just us. This barrier is everywhere.
A little background… My husband is from Jamaica and though in Jamaica locals speak English, most islanders speak Patwa (also spelled Patois or Patwah). Patwa is a heavy English dialect that I misunderstood and couldn’t keep up with when I lived on the island for a good nine months last year. When it came to talking to locals, it would often take two or three tries of me saying, “what?” before I could catch the full meaning. Bar tenders, baristas, wait staff, those selling trinkets and food on the beach, even my husband’s family that we lived with proved difficult for me to understand at times with simple things. Though I learned to pick up some Patwa, I relied on Kevin for translating most of the time.
Then there was the communication between he and I… and I learned very quickly after getting married, that language was going to be a bigger issue than I expected. Though my husband doesn’t communicate in Patwa to me, except to tease every once in a while, I realized that the words we both use to describe things, and certain phrases that neither of us thought about that come from our individual cultures, needed to be slowed down and explained at times. Still now, fears, frustrations, even humor often needs to be explained in a way that we’re both really able to get quiet and listen.
And then one day it hit me—the real language barrier between us isn’t in how we talk or what needs to be explained, but is actually how willing we are to listen to the other.
Listening, or lack of it, is the ultimate language barrier no matter where we are from. Listening can keep any person from understanding (even people within our own families).
Without the ability to listen, to really hear someone out with an opposing opinion or viewpoint, different choice of words, unfamiliar language…well… communication is pretty much blocked and no one moves forward.
For true communication to flow, the root language barrier of inability to hear and listen needs to be dug up and tossed aside. At the end of the day, we all must overcome the inability to hear and listen first if we truly want to understand the heart of any matter, no matter how deep or light the topic is. Ability to listen and hear can be the key to understanding, or the ultimate language barrier.
Up here in the sky, it all looks so beautiful, simple. There are only about four or five things that really matter: the sky, clouds, water/land below, and the airplane that I’m safe in that’s headed somewhere new. That’s it. That’s all that matters when I’m looking down from these heights. I’ve made it to my flight and now, I’m just… waiting.
I forget the hustle and bustle of traffic; the drama of this morning’s fight between lovers seems pointless; that last message I wanted to respond to or post I wanted to create isn’t even on my mind because I can’t do anything about it while I’m on the plane. I’m right where I’m supposed to be for the moment anyway and here, now in the sky none of it matters. I’m in the liminal space between my starting point and final destination and at last it’s peaceful. I’ve made through the airport obstacles and I’m right where I need to be. At this point, I’m just… waiting for the next thing; the old thing is done and the new one has yet to come.
I like flying because it gets me out and up. Quite literally, but also mentally and emotionally. That in between space of here and there is a time to reflect on the past and maybe leave things behind, but also look forward to the next “thing” that’s coming. It’s a time to let my mind wander and wonder… It’s a time to ask questions like: “What if I had done things differently in the city I just left?” And “Will it be okay when I arrive in the next place?”
Flying (and I’ve sometimes discovered the same to be true when driving long distances solo) is like a purgatory of in-between and for me it’s cathartic. I get to choose how the next moments are going to go in life. The key is being alone in the process because when I’m with other people, friends, family or others, I’m not in a liminal space. When I’m with others I’m already in action doing something like entertaining/talking/connecting. But when I’m alone flying or driving long distances, it’s the in between of here and there and it’s a place where I can unpack “random” questions in life and things start to make sense.
This bird’s eye view for me in a plane offers perspective— was that last fight worth it? Is the rush the get from point A to point B necessary every day? What’s the point of all the hours of work I do daily anyway? Because like I said up here in the sky only a few things are truly important and I think the same is true when it comes to the daily down to earth reality we’re meant to live. Not everything we put our time and energy to everyday really does matter.
This in between of flying makes me realize: sometimes it takes getting OUT of a situation, especially a negative one, that things become clear and focused. I realize there are only a few basic elements that I really want and need in life. Relationships, financial security, joy in hobbies and work, my physical health, my Faith… Getting up and out by flying away helps me look at the things of life that are in front of me from a new space, the liminal space, and that waiting period in between is like a hard reboot/reset.
With my husband and with my Kingdom business mentors, “Reset” has been an ongoing theme I’ve been learning about for a number of months. Every day… no… every minute we get the chance to move into the liminal space of the in between moments of life and hit the reset button. We get to live between one event and the next and choose how to respond and think 1 by 1, by 1. That last fight doesn’t have to stay with you as you walk into your next work meeting. And your hard work day doesn’t have to take away from family time in the evening, for example.
I will say, I don’t think you have to jump on a plane (or take a long solo drive) to get there, to answer these questions, but for me today, it doesn’t hurt. The reality is I’ve been trying to fix things around me in my personal life hanging on for dear life on a borrowed raft that keeps hitting rocks and rapids I feel like I didn’t choose. I’ve fallen out of the raft a couple of times too. I feel like every time I wanted or could hit that reset button, bam! That raft would collide into another boulder and I’d spend that time barely recovering before another altercation, fight, dramatic event, or financial dilemma.
For me today, flying away means I get to hit the ultimate reset button. I get to get off THAT raft and onto a different one. This is the liminal space. In this transition I get to choose the things I care about most. Freedom, work ethic, safety, relationships, health. Like the air, plane, water, and land when flying in the sky, life gets simpler and easier to see with this perspective— what’s truly important to me today? I get to answer that question in this space.
The peace that comes from the in between… the decisions and mindsets you get to choose, knowing that the birds eye view IS a liminal space that you can walk into, while still being grounded to earth, if you can’t physically get above the fray, what would that look like for you? What peace do you need and desire? How can you get there?
From experience, doing the same thing over and over in a broken environment just doesn’t work. For me, I had to literally get above and beyond in order to start seeing more clearly even today by flying.
I hope this makes sense— that it’s okay and good to live in the liminal space between events in life and make new decisions and choices/ hit the reset button on the moment you’re in, especially if it feels like my out-of-control raft analogy. For me today a quite literally flying with a Birds Eye View to decide what matters— what makes sense to keep and what makes sense to leave behind as I do a hard reboot and press the reset button in my own life— and brings clarity in the liminal space I’m in on this travel day. Both myself and my family who loves me fully grasp that sometimes it takes a hard move to get there, but I know by flying out of the fray and getting the birds eye view, I’m already on the way of deciding how I’m going to live in this next chapter of life so that the five important elements of life that matter most to me stay with me and last.
So, to wrap up my dear reader friend, do you recognize the liminal spaces in your life that you get to choose how to respond and make decisions between events and circumstances? Are you like me and do you need to fly up and away from a situation to really get clarity? What do you need to do to press the reset button on today? In this minute even? What 4 or 5 elements of life truly matter for you? How will you get them?
These are supper open ended questions, but if you care to comment, go ahead! I’d love to hear your thoughts.