I have a friend who is living with a chronic and progressive illness. It is difficult to communicate at times, especially since the pandemic. The illness impairs speech and movement. The last time I phoned, I asked how he was doing. For a moment his words were surprisingly lucid: “It’s like I’m here, but I’m not really here, if you know what I mean.” Then he laughed.
Many years ago, when I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I visited an exhibition of Chagall’s work. It seemed as I walked into the hall that there were paintings everywhere: sitting on easels, suspended from ceilings and fixed to walls. A room full of canvases with beings in motion: flying, floating, hovering. Winged beings. The colours singing. The air shimmering with presence. Giving not just the impression but the reality of transcendence.
What does it mean to be here? And not here? “Be-tween”—to live in two states at the same time, to span two points in time or space. To live double. Two fold. Midway. Suspended.
We live in in-between times. In between being vaccinated and not being vaccinated. In between a world before the pandemic and a world after the pandemic. In between climate crisis and climate catastrophe. In between democracy and tyranny. In between human rights and human traffickers. We are a world in motion.
It is not easy to hold presence here and not here at the same time. But many, like my friend, have been living “the between” and all that comes with it for years, perhaps their whole lives: feeling a part of society yet isolated; aspiring to human agency yet fundamentally trapped; connected within yet separated without; housed yet in many ways homeless; a citizen yet finding oneself, in small and large ways, nationless. Perhaps like Chagall, who lived his life as a Jew/not-Jew, exiled, displaced, and citizen of the world, always returning to dance that in-between dream space of the artist. And like my friend who all his life has written visions into text, now continues that work of imagination in his body, with self-deprecating humour and grace.
Change is the challenge; yet between life and death lies the transformation.