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The Art Of Waiting Gracefully

They say patience is a virtue. But it can also be a pleasure. (Eutah Mizushima/ Unsplash)
They say patience is a virtue. But it can also be a pleasure. (Eutah Mizushima/ Unsplash)
This article is more than 5 years old.

My son used my computer yesterday and was horrified by how long it took to boot up. “This is all wrong, Mom,” he said. “You shouldn't have to wait like this to get online.”

“I don't mind,” I said.

I might as well have sprouted antlers for the look he gave me. My son is 18. In his world, things happen fast. Fast food and fast songs. Instant music and movie downloads. Check deposits by phone. Books and sneakers bought online and delivered to your door in a day. When he has to wait, it's a shock.

It isn't necessarily a generational thing, this aversion to waiting. My husband is the same. He rides the train to Boston and can't stand how long it takes. If his phone can't Google the answer to a question within seconds, he starts jabbing his fingers at it. Doesn't matter if we're hiking in the woods. Like Veruca Salt, the little rich girl in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," he wants his answer now!

My dirty secret? I view waiting as a gift. Not because I'm a saint, a Buddhist, or even especially Zen, but because I've experienced some of life's most pleasurable moments while waiting. Maybe that's the byproduct of having a father who was in the Navy. Our family moved every few years, sometimes thousands of miles, which meant hours in the car. I passed the time by reading, daydreaming, and making up stories for my younger brothers.

In school, I was restless and beyond bored — nearly catatonic. I was always watching the clock and waiting for the school day to end. (This was long ago, during the sit-down-and-shut-up model of education.) Then I discovered the pleasures of reading novels behind the covers of my textbooks and drawing pictures of horses, and whole new worlds opened for me.

I view waiting as a gift. Not because I'm a saint, a Buddhist, or even especially Zen, but because I've experienced some of life's most pleasurable moments while waiting.

Later, traveling taught me that the rest of the world seems to wait better than we do in the U.S. As a high school exchange student in Argentina, I was placed in a modest home attached to a store. My host father was so pleased to have a U.S. student that he worked two jobs to buy tickets for me and his daughter to see an opera at the famous Teatro Colon, an endeavor that required us to stand in line for six hours to buy tickets. We made a party of it. Traveling anywhere in Argentina took hours, too — the family didn't own a car, so we always took trains or buses — but I learned to enjoy watching landscapes slide by the window, imagining the lives of people inside the houses we passed.

Later, on a trekking journey through Nepal, I experienced the pleasure of waiting in the Kathmandu post office. There, to send a package home meant standing in a long line for a man to wrap your box in brown paper and painstakingly tie it with string. Another man applied red sealing wax stamped with precision on any paper corners apt to come loose.

That same year, I went to Indonesia and learned the term jam karet. This translates as “rubber time,” a term originally given to the extra time it might take to travel someplace if a rubber tree falls across the road and blocks it. I learned to accept that things in life don't always go like clockwork, even if you live smack in the middle of Jakarta and nowhere near any rubber plantations. That's fine. There are always people to talk to, things to look at, and ideas to think about while you embrace the gift of an extra hour.

As I write this, I'm waiting in a Honda dealership for a brake job on my car.

“Ask your mom to drive over there and pick you up,” my husband suggested.

“No, it's fine. I'll wait,” I said. “I don't mind.”

It's the truth. The car dealer has comfy chairs and WiFi. More importantly, I'm listening to a pair of women — strangers, until they sat next to each other in this room — talk about their car repairs, their health, and how much it costs to place an obituary in the newspaper. It's the kind of place where the staff rings a bell every time there's a new sale.

It's so tempting to think, when we are impatiently waiting for something -- a doctor's appointment, a driver's license renewal, an airline delay -- that the next moment in our lives will be better ... But what if it isn't?

“That's annoying,” one of the women says about the bell, “but a lot better than when I was doing chemo and the nurses rang a bell every time one of us finished treatments.”

There are stories in the air wherever you go full of pathos and humor. There is beauty in a mountain landscape, but there is also beauty in a potted plant and a deep leather chair.

It's so tempting to think, when we are impatiently waiting for something — a doctor's appointment, a driver's license renewal, an airline delay — that the next moment in our lives will be better or more beautiful. We want to hurry toward it, impatient because we imagine that this other moment will be so much better. It will be exactly what we want.

But what if it isn't? What if this moment, right now, is the one you should have been waiting for all along?

Related:

Holly Robinson Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Holly Robinson is a novelist, journalist and celebrity ghost writer whose newest novel is "Folly Cove." She is also the author of "The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter: A Memoir."

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