If you want to know what it means to wait, talk to an insomniac. They’re experts on the subject.
They’ve mapped the trajectory of the sun creeping up the curtains. They’ve watched it flood over that one crack in the wall, a timeless marker, signaling they’re free to get out of bed now. They take comfort in the sun’s power to liberate them from the pretense of sleep. It means they can finally get on with their day–a day that secretly started hours ago.
If you want to know the discomfort of waiting, talk to an insomniac.
The discomfort of waiting hits our bodies with the utterance of one word: Helplessness.
Think, for a moment, about how you hate being stuck in the slow lane at the grocery store. Why? You can’t do anything about it. You have no control over the pace. You stand there all jittery with impatience, flipping through a magazine to distract yourself from what you can’t change, from the way your plans are being disrupted in real time by the treachery of an over-populated line.
Most of us are really bad at waiting, because most of us hate feeling helpless. Okay, so “most of us” is an understatement.
Even when we’ve decided something’s worth waiting for, it’s still uncomfortable. While we’re waiting we summon a million anxious thoughts. We mull over the “what ifs” and play out a variety of catastrophic scenarios, often ending with death, or destruction, or man-eating alligators.
As if helplessness isn’t enough, we feel something else that’s equally dreadful: we feel unresolved. Maybe you’re waiting for THE phone call, or to find out if your loved one made it home safely; maybe you’re anxious for those MRI results, or maybe you need your house to sell, yesterday. What marks the capstone events that follow these waiting periods is resolution. Our humanity is crazy in love with resolution. Only we want good resolution, of course.
But if we live for resolution, we disrespect all the moments in between.
I’ve learned far more from waiting than doing. But that was only when I chose to view waiting as a discipline. A discipline is a process of cultivating self-control and focused attention around a particular theme. A discipline has intrinsic value when it moves us towards a meaningful goal.
When we dig in, we discover a savory truth. The truth is we’re always waiting. We’re always anticipating and dreading something. Embrace it. Waiting is omnipresent.
Pregnancy is a laborious act of waiting. But those nine months are as necessary for mom as they are for baby. If a woman denies she’s pregnant for the first eight months, she’ll panic at the end. Overwhelmed by the unfinished work of the pregnancy, she can’t appreciate the miraculous outcome. And after her baby is born she’ll be confronted with a whole new and indescribably transcendent experience of waiting. If she tries to avoid that, she’ll miss the miracles that continue to trail behind.
We dislike waiting because we feel helpless to change what’s unresolved and we’re crazy about resolution. The answer is to embrace discipline rather than avoidance. If we’re always waiting, we might as well honor what we’re waiting for by anticipating it with forethought and appreciation. When we do that, we no longer feel so helpless. When we honor the wait, resolution does eventually come and in delightfully unexpected ways.
Even the whitewashed photograph waits. The sun is relegated to the background, hugging a corner of the frame, poised to illuminate brick and mortar. The bikes are idly resting on the post, an homage to the arrested development of their octagonal friend. Evans’ sign waits to be either celebrated or torn down; the people will decide the fate of his slogan in hashtags. Even the parking sign is waiting for a passerby to adjust it back to symmetry.
Nature waits. Architecture waits. People wait.