About this time every year, I survey the woods behind my house for signs of green. The brown trees and snowy ground are a stark reminder that it’s still winter in New England and that I must wait several months before spring will clothe the woods in color once again.
This year I’m not only waiting for spring to arrive, but also anticipating a move across the country that has been in the works for the last ten months. My impatience is compounded. As Tom Petty’s “The Waiting” replays in my head, I remember that I’m not the only one who finds waiting excruciating.
When you’re waiting, time seems to stand still. Life’s momentum pauses and any attempt to restart it feels like trying walking through quick sand. Waiting places feel like winter’s dead space where, as Dr. Seuss one said, people wait for a train to come or a plane to go, or the phone to ring, or a yes or a no. They wait for a pot to boil, or a better break, or another chance. Everyone is just waiting…
This week’s Revised Common Lectionary reading includes various scriptures about waiting. In Genesis, Abraham waits for progeny to complete his family. In the Pslams, a poet waits for prayers to be answered, and in Luke, Jesus waits for promises to be fulfilled. Yesterday, a friend phoned to tell me that her husband lost his job and their family was in financial peril. And another posted on Facebook that she is losing her home and faces homelessness. Waiting for the next paycheck, or for a place to call home is as excruciating as any of the scenarios that scripture highlights.
I’ve heard it said that good things are always worth the wait, and while that may be true sometimes, those words bring little comfort to those for whom the wait is a matter of survival. A cancer patient I once sat with offered me her perspective. As she waited for whichever came first—a cure for her cancer or her death—she claimed that it wasn’t the end of waiting that makes the agony of the wait worth it, for she had no idea what the end might be. Instead the waiting itself has value.
She said that the wait allowed her to see the beauty of life more clearly. She had time to mend relationships that had fallen into disrepair, to tell people how much she loved them, and to marvel at the acts of human kindness that surrounded her, even in the hospital. I think I caught a glimpse of what she meant when I learned of the outpouring of support and genuine concern for my friends whose waiting places were otherwise fraught with loneliness. The waiting place exposed their vulnerability and that opened them up, allowing them to take hold of the helping hand that offered to pull them out of the thick mud.
I thought about that patient last night when the sunset caught my eye on a late afternoon walk. As blue sky bled into pink horizon behind the woods that winter laid bare, I noticed deer tracks in the snow. I heard the scurry of a squirrel before I saw her dart up an old trunk. Cardinals perched on gnarly branches, and I admired the vibrant redness of winterberries. Life was all around, even in the recesses of the cold earth below where spring has already begun. There is worth in the waiting. I will try to remember that.
What is the hardest thing you have had to wait for?