Mind the Gap


Margaret Silf, in her book, The Other Side of Chaos, makes a comparison between the phrase heard on the subway platforms of London (and Hong Kong)—mind the gap—to the space between the “no longer” and the “not yet” that we all experience when we go through great changes.  This “gap” between platform and train is a risky space that makes us nervous and uncomfortable.

Throughout our lives, we go through times of living within these risky spaces.  And this space is where we experience the most personal growth because the alternative is to stay home.  For the past 4 years I have been living in “the gap” having left family, place, friends, and previous positions behind.  This past year there have been signs of having started to experience life on the other side of this gap of change.  Life is starting to have a recognized rhythm and cycle.

The more we navigate these “gap” experiences, the more we become familiar and anticipate times of growth and adjustment.  My younger daughter did not have an easy time living in New Zealand, but this “gap” experience, which pushed her beyond her comfort zone, shaped her in a profound way.  She became a cross-cultural bridge for others.  When I asked her to consider going to Hong Kong for her senior year in high school, she said—why not?  The alternative, of course, was to stay home.  In thinking about this opportunity she could articulate that she knew it would take some time to adjust once we got there.  And again it was an experience that pushed her beyond her comfort zone, whether it was controlling anxiety on the overnight train ride from Shanghai to Guangzhou when we had no idea what was going on, or managing to get to a friend’s house using multiple types of transportation all on her own.  She learned once again that she could “mind and navigate in the gap” and grow in new ways that she could not anticipate.  When we went back to live in Hong Kong the second time, she leapt into life without hesitation. And having had practice, she moved to an entirely different region of the United States after graduating from college and has navigated these changes.

Often we try to circumvent the process of living in this in-between state of change and learning between the “no longer” and the “yet to be” state of life.  Over time, I have found that I have become more conscious of trying to be mindful of being in the gap without pushing toward some future.  I have to say that I get great pleasure out of entering a new culture and not knowing what is going on around me—it is the process of navigating and learning that gives me pleasure rather than becoming comfortable as quickly as possible. I desire to be “in the gap” while being mindful of it, taking in each new piece of knowledge of a new place or culture and in the process being changed myself.

Margaret Silf says that there is no shortcut to the “not yet.”  We can refuse to move toward it and cling rigidly to the “no longer.”  “We can try to move too quickly by leaping across the abyss.   Or we can see this gap as not something to be avoided at all but something to be minded.  We are to pay attention to it, not because it is waiting to swallow us up into danger but because it is our God-given tutor to prepare us for the next stage of our life.”  Hold on tight to life and mind the gap.