In the last week of 2011, I spent a lot of time waiting. Waiting for flights. Waiting for coffee. Waiting for elderly parents. It got me thinking about what it means to wait.
My choices, as I saw them last Thursday at IAH: I could rage against the delays, as I sometimes do in the face of the constant chatter of the work world or when stuck in traffic on the Washington beltway. Or I could accept the forced slowdown, revel in the change in routine, and use the time for constructive nothingness, just waiting to see what comes or even shaping the time to my liking.
So while waiting for the Houston fog to lift, I spent three hours reading the final chapters of Dinaw Mengestu’s How to Read the Air. In the novel, the narrator, Jonas Woldemarian, is stuck, waiting. He lies; he fails to connect with his wife and others around him; finally he flees by car, recreating the honeymoon route of his parents and imagining the early seeds of demise in their marriage. Jonas is the epitome of passivity, but Mengestu writes exquisitely and captures me entirely.
And it also gets me wondering if I’m spending too much time – Jonas-like – waiting for what comes next, while neglecting the present in the process. I’m not telling lies, but I might be wasting chances.
I Googled “waiting” (like I told you, I’m indulging in constructive nothingness at the airport!) and found a couple of insightful quotes:
- The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting. (Fran Lebowitz)
- Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. (Carl Sagan)
- You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes. (A. A. Milne)
Lebowitz waits, but not passively. Sagan anticipates, and likely pursues. And Milne comes down from the tree and goes after the honey.
Several days later, as I write I remember a watercolor sunrise, all reds and oranges, given to me by my best friend Hedy in ninth grade (Hedy, do you remember?). On it she had written: my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. (Psalm 130)
Sometimes I wonder what I am waiting for – not the delayed flights, but the big things, the things that make me neglect the present in favor of a future yet untasted. At other times, I am quite certain what I wait for. I’m quite certain that it is more beautiful than the most exquisite prose. And I am quite certain that it is here, now, all around us … and always has been, and always will be.