It was World Refugee Day this week when I heard someone praying for the people worldwide who find themselves ‘in limbo’. ‘Finding themselves’ might not be the right word for stateless people in refugee camps around the world who've lost everything and have no sense of the shape of their future. The chances are that in these times of waiting, they, like all of us, lose rather than find ourselves. Waiting for paperwork of all kinds can be soul destroying: refugees waiting for visas, families waiting for decisions on financial and legal affairs before they can move, victims waiting for court cases to be heard, estranged couples waiting for divorce papers. And then there’s the waiting for the slow process of healing to take place and – maybe worst of all, patients and their families waiting for critical test results. In limbos great and small it's easy to lose touch with the meaning of our lives.
A man I used to work with had his own adjective for these challenging times. He called them ‘doldrumic’! We tend to think of these as becalmed times. But Google says the Doldrums is ‘an equatorial region of the Atlantic Ocean with calms, sudden storms, and light unpredictable winds’.
That’s how it feels in our family at the moment as we wait, yet again, for test results and outcomes of treatment on our 13 week old grandson who is back in hospital a very few weeks after leaving his room in the renal ward to be at home for the first time with his mum, dad and doting 4-year old sister.
In our case, everyone’s first question is, ‘What’s the prognosis?’ And we report the medical answers: ‘Well, this could happen or that could happen or the other could happen. The truth is,’ say the doctors, ‘we still have a number of possible treatment modalities but at the moment, we need more information before we can plan.’ And so, in our family limbo, we move on one day at a time.
But like all people in limbo, we don’t feel as if we're moving. We march on the spot. We can do very little. And not doing anything is the hardest part of this experience. We do our best to keep some structure in our lives. We follow the same daily routines. We hang on every word that the medics utter but no-one can offer certainty. And even if they did, we’d suspect them!
And like all types of 'doldrumic' uncertainty, our experience is not always very calm. There are light unpredictable ‘doldrumic’ winds. There are sudden ‘doldrumic’ storms as we contemplate and recoil from the worst case scenarios. ‘Nature abhors a (knowledge) vaccuum’ and since we don’t know what the future holds, our imagination goes into overdrive, creating all sorts of possibilities.
Our family difficulties mirror those of millions around the world in diverse limbos. We are far from a refugee camp or a concentration camp but in our limbo we try to remember the ideas of Viktor Frankl. As they contemplated the most inhumane scenarios, Viktor Frankl observed that those ‘optimists’ who cherished false hopes that release was just around the corner lost their sustaining sense of meaning more easily. The art of living in limbo is to believe that ‘the only way out is through’. We find that the Desmond Tutu creed has a lot going for it: ‘I believe that goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death’.