What you do with time
is what a grandmother clock
does with it: strike twelve
and take its time doing it.
You’re the clock: time passes
you remain. And wait.
(From: “Mother,” by From The Plural of Happiness: Selected Poems of Herman de Coninck, 2006)
I was too restless to concentrate on writing a prompt yesterday morning, and I was preoccupied with leading a writing workshop in the afternoon. I promised myself I’d get the post written in the evening, but by then, thinking about my daughter’s impending dissertation defense, my husband and I began reminiscing, remembering our doctoral defenses, and while it was an innocent conversation, it ignited my agitation. I slept well enough until five a.m., waking with my eldest daughter dominating my thoughts. She’s on Eastern Time, so I knew she would soon be leaving for her university. Despite my confidence in her, I felt anxious and hoped she was prepared for what is often a grueling two-hour doctoral dissertation defense. I knew she was well grounded in her research area, living and working in Lebanon for several years as she interviewed countless Lebanese youth and experts in her field of study. Her research took years, due, in part, to work assignments, developing a long-term relationship with her spouse, and giving birth to a daughter, now five, and writing a lengthy dissertation in Mid-East studies. Yet she persisted, finishing the dissertation a few months ago and today finally charged with defending her work.
It’s little surprise that I couldn’t go back to sleep. Six a.m. for me, nine a.m. for her, and I pictured her entering the conference room, dissertation committee and external examiner seated at the table. Seven a.m., and I tried deep breathing, thinking positive thoughts, and willing myself back to sleep. I was unsuccessful. So I gave up, got out of bed and waited, nervously jumping up every time the telephone rang. A business call for my husband. A call from a friend. A delivery. And still I waited.
Standing at the baggage passing time:
Austin Texas airport—my ride hasn’t come yet.
(Gary Snyder, “Waiting for A Ride,” in Danger On Peaks, 2004)
Waiting. You stare at the clock; the hands seem to move in slow motion. We do a lot of waiting in our lifetimes, and there are periods in our lives when waiting seems to be the dominate feature of each day. We wait in lines for tickets or to get through security at the airport. We wait to be served in restaurants or for a train in the subway station. We wait for calls or letters from loved ones, for acceptances to schools, or the results of medical tests,( as I did this past weekend), or for a loved one undergoing surgery. We wait in doctors’ waiting rooms for an appointment scheduled an hour earlier, thumbing impatiently through outdated magazines and checking the clock a dozen times.
You will have to wait. Until it. Until …
Until the doctor enters the waiting room, and His expression betrays all, and you wish He’d take his God-damned hand off your shoulder.
(From: “Waiting,” The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren, 1998)
We wait with hope; and sometimes, we wait with dread. And many of us wait impatiently, unable to concentrate on much of anything but the waiting.
Some days will be rainy and you will sit waiting
And the letter you wait for won’t come,
And I will sit watching the sky tear off gray and gray
And the letter I wait for won’t come.
(From “Caboose Thoughts,” by Carl Sandburg, 1878 – 1967)
No amount of sighing and toe tapping diminishes the waiting. It does little good to pace the hallway or sit at the table, foot twitching restlessly, willing something or someone to speed up. As Robert Penn Warren is to have said, If something takes too long, something happens to you. You become all and only the thing you want and nothing else, for you have paid too much for it, too much in wanting and too much in waiting and too much in getting.”
Time—and events—move as they will. Still we wait. It’s difficult to focus on anything else, and yet, if impatience becomes our master, how much of the life around us might we fail to notice?
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
(From The Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot, 1943)
The faith and the love and the hope are … in the waiting. These words remind me to reconsider why life seems to make us wait. I am still learning, despite my age, to accept what I cannot control, to let things unfold as they will–even if it’s as simple as waiting for the call from my eldest daughter to tell me her news… And she did, an hour ago, entering the defense as a graduate student and exiting with her new title, “Dr.” as she left the university nearly three hours later. She called a short time afterward with the good news, and it was worth the wait.
- What are you waiting for now?
- Do you remember a particular time when your life seemed to be consumed by waiting?
- Write about waiting for news, good or bad. What was the situation? How did you feel waiting? How did you feel once the wait was up?