Life in the Box: Waiting



Are you good at waiting? I’m horrible at it. I can’t seem to keep from clock watching and pacing and not knowing what to do with myself until “it’s time.”

Waiting can be an almost unbearable state. Elisabeth Elliot calls it “the willingness to bear uncertainty.” And, depending on what kind of uncertainty, waiting can be a minor draw on my emotions, or major.

Minor drains include waiting for Santa Claus, waiting for a stop light, and waiting to leave for lunch with friends. I know that waiting for lunch shouldn’t bother me; I’m looking forward to seeing them and eating good food. But I don’t like doing nothing, so if I have 20 minutes until time to leave, I start doing something. That’s great, but when I concentrate, I get into a sort of interior space that knows no time. Soon, I’m late for lunch.

I’ve learned to set my phone alarm to alert me from my projects when it’s time to leave. That helps a lot. And, If I have too much trouble thinking of little ways to wait at home, I’ve even decided it’s okay to get places early and sit, stand, pace, or stretch in lobbies and waiting rooms. clock-check-sm

Larger emotional drains include waiting for results from major tests, including but not limited to medical tests and procedures: biopsies, surgeries, blood tests, and treatments. Maybe an answer will come in a few hours or a few days. Maybe the test will not be conclusive. Maybe the treatment will work. The bearing of uncertainty is more difficult because life’s continuation can be at stake.

The possibility that life may end soon, suddenly, or maybe painfully is a horrible understanding that sharpens and hangs over us during those medical waiting times. When the shoe drops, when we have the outcome, then we can plan. Until then, we can only put as much of our planning on hold as possible and try not to over-think the possibilities. If we could also suspend our feelings of grief and loss, maybe we wouldn’t have to feel anything but joy for a “close call.” It all depends. Can we wait to feel?

flying-thru-flower-timex20-sm There’s no way to set a telephone alarm for “time to know” or “time to feel.”

Then, there’s this other layer of waiting that is a constant undercurrent in our lives. It’s waiting to die. Or, waiting for other people to die. How do you know how to plan for that? Even if there are no hospitals involved, we all know the certainty of death. We don’t ever know the schedule, though.

For some people, this big uncertainty becomes a religious question; for others it’s all about insurance and legal paperwork for those left behind. For me, it raises questions of how to live until “it’s time.” Time for me; time for my wife; time for other important people in my life.

The tension of not knowing when it’s gonna happen gives so many life decisions a tremble of uncertainty. How do you fill a bucket of time when you don’t know how big that container is? And there are other sub-currents of unknowns like varying degrees of health and disability that can snag you and drag down your plans of a perfect life.

So, control over life’s timetable is out of our hands; at the same time it’s the only thing in our hands. A conundrum that we bear—willingly or unwillingly.

For now, I’ve decided on a simple formula for waiting. For little things, it’s a matter of how to fill time and set an alarm. For bigger things, it’s a matter of how to fill time and not worry. For the biggest thing, it’s the same: fill time as well as you can, don’t worry, and repeat as needed.

Now that I’ve got that settled, I wonder what Santa will bring this year! Happy Holidays and much peace in the many ways you wait this time of year!

author-picture2smallerNancy Heather Brown is a retired, Emmy Award-winning television producer whose career has included interviewing, writing, and editing for a span of four decades. Today, she enjoys learning new things and reflecting upon the creative process both inside and outside the box.