I’m waiting. I’ve been waiting for a while now. Restless. I wrote a post about waiting a year and a half ago and I’m still waiting. The dust finally settled from that season of my life, but the new season hasn’t yet begun. So I’m waiting.
In January, I went in search of a yellow-throated warbler that was reported at the Trenton Sewage Works. This bird shouldn’t be in Trenton in the winter. As I arrived, there were half dozen or so other birders standing around, binoculars in hand, scanning the trees and shrubs. The mood was light — people were chatting, sharing news about when the bird was last seen, how long they had been waiting, speculating about the bird feeding on the hatch of bugs from the sewage pools. I waited about twenty minutes before the beautiful little male appeared. He was in remarkable condition for January; bright breeding plumage. He was worth every second of the wait. In fact, I would have gladly waited much longer to see him.
Then last weekend, as I was driving eastbound on the PA Turnpike, traffic suddenly slowed and came to a complete stop. The view of the road ahead was just beyond a bend. I was hopeful it would be a short wait. But as I crept around the bend, the line of traffic stretched as far as I could see. It was going to be a long wait. I was annoyed — waiting was not part of my plans for the day. It also took about twenty minutes.
Waiting is part of the human condition. And while no one is a fan of waiting, I have a hunch it’s important for the journey. There’s something important in the wait. But I’m not very good at the traffic-jam type of waiting.
I’ve been thinking about my posture when I’m waiting. I’m either on high alert — literally on the edge of my seat, senses at full attention looking for the slightest movement, or else I’m slumped down, weary and bored with the tedium. It’s something like the throttle on a boat or a plane. When the throttle is full tilt forward we wait in high speed, we anticipate the resolution of our wait at any moment– expectation is high. Stress is high. I remember the hours before Hurricane Sandy slammed into Little Egg Harbor. That was full-throttle waiting. Oddly, it still seemed endless in the way time passed. But the wait was full of anticipation.
I like the waiting area of an airport. I love to people-watch as they wait for a glimpse of their long-expected loved ones. They stand on their tip toes and search the faces of the crowd. They wave frantically at first sight. That’s high-intensity, full-throttle waiting of the best kind.
As a throttle moves back to the idle position, so too can a wait lose its urgency. The possibility of a quick resolution diminishes. The posture of waiting relaxes and we move from the edge of our seats back to a slouch as we realize we’re in it for the long haul. Anticipation fades, anxiety diminishes, so too does our interest. I once waited in line at a flu-shot clinic for 90 minutes. I ran the gamut of waiting postures: full-tilt energy all the way down to idle tedium. When I first stepped into the lobby I was hopeful it would be no more than a ten minute wait. Then I realized I was only in line to register for the shot. As I stepped through the next set of doors into the open space of a gymnasium, I saw the line snake back and forth in ripples of humanity. By the end, I barely cared. I had reached a grim level of resignation that was punctuated only by the sting of the shot itself.
It seems not to matter whether it’s something good or bad for which we wait. A hospital waiting room is a good example of this. I’ve spent a lot of time in hospital waiting rooms and it’s the most tense posture of waiting I know. It is waiting that’s full of anticipation and anxiety and hope and fear. Full throttle waiting. It’s been my experience that in the hospital waiting room, an unusually high percentage of people find God in the midst of the wait. Sometimes it’s the first time a person ventures forth with a timid request of Universe: “Please, let them be all right.” Sometimes the waiting room is the place where a person has it out with the Almighty. Whatever the reason, people seem to find God more accessible in the anxious waiting of the Waiting Room.
Something happens to us when we wait — something unseen and unconscious, but something necessary for the human condition. While I was waiting for that yellow-throated warbler, another surprise visitor made an appearance at the Trenton Sewage Works— a Nashville Warbler – another little bird who shouldn’t be anywhere near New Jersey in January. He was duller in plumage than his friend, but he was in excellent condition none-the-less; flitting among branches in typical warbler fashion. Had I not been waiting for the Yellow-throated Warbler, I would have missed the Nashville. There was a blessing in the wait.
If I’m honest, the wait on the turnpike had something good in it too. I got a call from my dear friend Nancy McKeon. We made plans to have lunch the next day. Over lobster lettuce wraps we talked about waiting. Nancy patiently listened while I whined about my long season of waiting. Then with the compassion and love that only a true friend can muster, she told me a secret I’d long ago forgotten. She said that when she gets too focused on what is still to come, she misses the day to day blessings of the here and now. She has learned to pay attention to the little things in the life. A life well-lived in the moment doesn’t waste a lot of time or energy waiting for what’s next. You simply receive life as it comes.
Surely, good things and blessings are coming at us — even at high speed, just as challenges and bad things are also coming at us. How we receive them is the difference between a warbler-wait and a traffic jam-wait. It’s time to stop waiting and start living in the moment.