When I was very young, I used to pray that I would have the strength to be a martyr. By the time I’d reached my teens, I’d adjusted the prayer that I would be strong enough to deal with whatever life sent me, which, dear God, I suggested, I hoped would not be martyrdom. With increasing self-knowledge, I have considerably lengthened the list of things not to be included.
Anticipation seems to be a universal of all living things. Cats wait outside the mouse-hole, squirrels bury nuts for the winter, birds build nests for the expected new arrivals. We humans with our expanded mental abilities quite possibly are capable of more anticipation than any other living organism. As children we count the almost-infinite number of days to Christmas, or the interminable hours spent in the back seat of the car until we’re finally there.
We don’t get over anticipating as we get older. As our mental abilities mature we become capable of imagining more and more possibilities. In fact, as most of us eventually realize that the only certainty is uncertainty, waiting for what is going to happen next is on some levels a permanent state. That means more potential for planning but it also more potential for worry and anxiety.
Waiting to see what is going to happen might be for small everyday things: will the roast be cooked yet? will our guests be on time? is it going to rain tomorrow? will this solve the (fill in whatever may be the preoccupation of the moment) problem?
But sometimes we are inevitably waiting for events that will change our lives. And many of those events seem completely beyond our control. Did I get the job? Will s/he marry me? Was my application accepted? And sometimes the most draining waiting of all in relation to medical concerns: will he regain consciousness? will she be able to walk again? is it terminal?
Waiting uses up such a big chunk of time that if waiting is nothing more than empty space in between doing something meaningful, it uses up way too much of what is, by any measurements of even the most long-lived, a very short life.
There are obvious ways I don’t want to use waiting. I don’t want to use it as an excuse not to do anything. I don’t want to let it disable me with anxiety or distraction or disorienting hope. I don’t want to let it turn me into a complainer or a whiner or to see myself as a heroic victim.
But I have seen people use waiting constructively. I’ve seen them plan for contingencies, so that whatever happens they are better prepared: “If this happens, I can…, but if this happens I will…” I’ve seen people prepare others for what might happen. That might be as simple as explaining why I may be late getting home tonight; it might be as critical as making a will or, as my mother did, talking to her children about their lives after she died.
What I hope for myself is that I can use waiting so that I am better able to face whatever it is that life throws at me next.
Even if it is merely the discovery that my chocolate souffle has failed to rise to the heights I envisioned when I put it into the oven fifteen minutes ago.