Every day on the personal, familial, national and global front, we are caught between some version of heaven and hell. Heaven is right around the corner: a good grade, a sweet job, the lottery, a beer at the end of the day, true love, a safe return...... Hell is around the same corner and there is no map to get us safely to heaven, safely away from hell. We just turn the corner, every day, and count our blessings when we've sidestepped tragedy and loss, or maybe we mumble and complain when it's not exactly heaven- but certainly not really hell. And then, sooner or later we all turn and find ourselves in hell. Winston Churchill said (or so the magnets say) "When you're going through hell, keep going!" Good advice. But wherever we've turned, we most often find ourselves somewhere in between. In Purgatory.
Purgatory, an odd place that apparently resides not only as the gateway to heaven, but also as the romantic, but dangerous overlook in many seaside towns, is now the state that many of us find ourselves in. Waiting. Waiting for the next stop, the next turn in the road, the next day, the next good thing or bad thing. But we are suffering as we wait. We are suffering because it is hard, almost impossible, to live in the juxtaposition between heaven and hell, or even between heaven and earth, which is a more pleasant image. That image draws us back to ancient Chinese medicine and martial arts and invites us to actually rest easily in our in-between place. But that is what we don't do well at all. Live here and now, in between heaven and hell or heaven and earth. In the present, not yet at the destination, whatever we imagine it to be. Not assured of a place in heaven, not sentenced to hell. In between. In purgatory.
When flight 1549
crash landed in the Hudson a year and a half ago, 150 people, had about 9 minutes of purgatory, all thinking they were likely to die as they saw the NYC skyline riding above them. Every soldier touching down in a country at war steps into purgatory. In fact, everyone, in severe and dangerous situations, or in normal daily ones, finds themselves experiencing that awful, confusing place. But what if, instead of being afraid, instead of trying to control the future, instead of gathering as many toys as we possibly can, because we know that the one who dies with the most toys wins, what if, instead of all that, we rested in the place we were in, because that is the place we are.
Strapped into your seatbelt as the plane is going down, you are left with few options. The passengers on that plane knew that and, quite remarkably, they seemed to rest there. Some prayed, some held the hands of a stranger next to them, some took out a cell phones for a last "I love you call." No one screamed or panicked. No one tried to escape. And yet, in the end, they did all escape, back to lives that they were determined to make better lives. Their second chance redefined many of them, affirming deeper values, challenging limiting behaviors, trying on new ways of being, facing fear and remembering to live in the present. They know, better than most, that there is only the present.
And that takes us back to Purgatory, that in between place, where we are not quite in heaven. Not quite in hell, not quite on earth, even. Purgatory is now, somewhere in the middle of life's journey. It is never a destination. It is always a process. And if we breathe into this moment, if we accept this experience as the only experience available at this moment, we might live in the present a bit more. We might find our peace, and even our joy in the in-between world, where we are, in fact, not all that, and we are also not nothing. We are not as wonderful as we sometimes think we are nor as awful as we often think we are. We are not better or worse. We are neither right nor wrong. We, are, both divine and earthly. We are both angels and devils. And that's enough.