I used to believe that I was bad at waiting. I'd joke that patience was a virtue that I did not have. But that wasn't true. I'd simply equated not liking certain kinds of waiting with an inability to do so. As it happens, I am very good at some types of waiting. Other types not so much at all.
From the time I was a child, I disliked waiting for "surprises." It felt like I was being taunted every time I was told there was something wonderful coming, but that I couldn't know what it was and I'd have to wait three weeks to find out. Either the long lead up doomed the pleasurable outcome because of the embellishments that time gave to the surprise or it wasn't worth the big build up to begin with. It was frequently disappointing and I began to dread the wind up to birthdays and Christmas. Excessive anticipation killed the surprises and I came to dislike that sort of waiting. I still do. I'd rather a pleasant surprise come to me out of the blue without the advance notice.
In the more mundane sorts of waiting, I am fairly unflappable. Traffic jams, supermarket lines, doctors' offices, do not faze me in the slightest. They are the sort of every day waiting scenarios that are predictable and only surprising in their absence. And by their very predictability, I am able to head them off at the pass and react calmly because I have been able to plan for waiting activities to fill the space. Thus there is no sense of wasted time.
There is the process type of waiting that only wears thin near the completion of whatever it is one is waiting for. The last half of my last semester in undergraduate school was sheer hell. I knew that I wasn't going to learn much of anything in the remaining weeks and figured they should just give me my degree and let me get on with my life. I was already done, despite still having time to put in. There was a similar sensation towards the end of my first pregnancy. By eight and a half months, I wanted to be finished and went a bit nutsy when the pregnancy extended three weeks beyond the expected due date. I wanted to move onto the mother stage and I desperately wanted my body back. I manage to wait through those sorts of things, because really what choice does one have? But as a known completion approaches, the patience in waiting begins to wear thin.
There is a kind of waiting where one not only can manage to wait just fine, but also to hope that the waiting can be extended. When a bad outcome is certain, such as with a death or a final parting from someone dear to us, each moment of waiting becomes filled with the experience of a savoring of the other person's presence that we would stretch out endlessly, if only we could.
As I've gotten older, most types of waiting have become easier to live through. I've learned not to load expectations onto anticipation. I've learned not to focus so much on the completion of something while I'm still in the process of it. But there is one sort of waiting that I haven't yet mastered and wonder if I ever will.
I have a great deal of difficulty living through the waiting when I do not know if or when an expected or hoped for outcome will occur; the sort of waiting that appears to be without end and which can lead to feelings of hopelessness. This can occur with both good things and bad things. The waiting by the phone for news from a hospital. The waiting to find out if hard work will result in success. The waiting for hopes and dreams to come to fruition. The waiting without any sort of control over a result. Perhaps that is a waiting that I will learn to do more easily over time, but at this point in my life it feels more like a releasing or giving up than waiting.
And now I wonder if it is really a question of waiting. The frustrations may arise more out of a lack of control in a situation than passing time. Might I not get more frustrated in traffic if I am in a hurry or if it is an emergency? Might I not get less frustrated if I were able to release all imagined control over outcomes? Is it about waiting at all? I am beginning to believe that it isn't, but rather about circumstances and what is more important to an individual in any given moment.
Teacher Voices: Stewart Matthews - Here's another post in my continuing series on teacher voices. I'm interviewing some of my former students who have gone on to become teachers. In this po...
5 days ago