(You can answer this question in whichever way you want and with regard to any kind of goal of outcome; mundane or magnificent, frivolous or fundamental. You can also ask it any way you like – emphasising any word will subtly change the question. Your call.)
I’ll admit it. This is probably a strange post for my blog as it’s out of step with my usual stuff on play, HE etc. I think I’m partly following my heart in terms of wanting to write about random things, not just the obvious, to find out what I think about them. I don’t always know till I’ve finished.
So I’m sharing my meander through my brain on this one because I have finally realised what a vast amount of time in our lives is spent waiting. It’s part of pretty much everything we do; ingrained, among other things, in the phrases and tones of voice we use for it and in the queues, spaces and rooms in which we do it.
Most of the time what you/we are / I am waiting for is for something to happen. It’s such a common occurrence we naturally assume we know how to define it. Yet thinking about waiting led me to look it up in the dictionary as I’ve never bothered to before. (This is the problem with the academic life; you end up with an almost Pavlovian need to clarify meanings, even when they are elusive or unsatisfactory. Just this week I was discussing learning communities in a webinar and found online dictionary definitions of community somewhat barren. It’s a similar story with waiting). An online search revealed it to be
“the action of staying where one is or delaying action until a particular time or event.”
This seems an understated and rather static description. Where are the nuances of agency or passivity ( when we choose to wait, or when we feel waiting is being imposed on us)? Surely it is not just about “delaying “but about the nature of the gap between action/s and what we do in it? The liminal state? The transition between where you are and what you want (money, love, lunch,Nobel Peace prize)? What about the emotional impact of waiting or the existential connotations that attach themselves to the times when we are waiting for something monumental, serious, life changing?
How do we wait and what does it feel like?
Does this just sound a bit faux-philosophical and pointless?
Why on earth does it matter? Have I just been indoors too long?
Your immediate reactions might well be “yes”, “it doesn’t” and “probably”. However as I’ve been writing I think I have unearthed a point and it is this: paying attention to how we wait helps us shed light on our personal and subjective experiences. Some of us are patient, stoic, resourceful, productive, and zenlike; finding in waiting some respite from, or pause in, a frantic day. Others among us endure waiting with little grace; impatient, frustrated, resentful, and desperate for it to be over. How we feel will obviously also depend on other things like circumstances or mood or infinitely more significant factors such as the graveness of the outcome for which we are waiting. This piece by Reverend Williams in this post Why is waiting such a hard thing to do? gives poignant examples of the times when the act of waiting is torture, caused by worry or dread. Waiting is at its worst when we are highly anxious about something and we have no indication as to when it will be over.
What am I waiting for?
Right this minute? For my feet to warm up. My tea to cool down. The rain to stop. The grey to lift. And a thousand insignificant-but-important (to me) other things. If you want to seriously ramp up what I’m waiting for then the resolution of global injustice and the conquering of the pandemic are high on my list but are currently beyond my control.
Actually, what is absorbing a great deal of my headspace right this moment is trying to move house.
Lawks, does that involve a lot of waiting. Waiting which can be tense, tedious, exciting, baffling, worrying and deeply destabilising – like trying to cross a river in a gale via stepping stones which are wobbly and slippery and did I even mention the fog that comes in from nowhere, not to mention the fear that the promised dry land on the other side is just hallucination.
Bit too dramatic? Ok…but…
Waiting and transition
…at the very least, moving house puts you in a limbo state. You no longer live (mentally) where you actually do (physically) and you haven’t (physically) got to where (mentally) you have already moved to. It is uprooting and unsettling…not unlike our efforts to navigate existence with Covid 19 in the world.
We are trying to live the way we used to do (with adjustments) while actually doing things very differently and sometimes also wishing we were somewhere else in time or space. Waiting for things to start, to stop, to not be so changeable and scary. To be able to travel and hug people without wanting to get hosed down afterwards in case of contagion. To be in real rooms not Zoom rooms.To be sharing material objects, food, contact. Waiting for the return of good times, freedom, “normality”, or whatever it is we most want in our lives.
So why am I writing this post?
I’d love to pretend that I have written it with the intention of coming up with a nice big Ta Daarrrr! Reveal of Solution and Point. I haven’t though. It’s not been written with answers or a plan or the aim of turning waiting into an Olympic sport. It’s just sometimes waiting creates a space in which we ask ourselves bigger questions than we expected we might. Our experience of waiting just feels like a universal topic that is worth airing without a predefined outcome, in the hope that it resonates with someone somewhere.
There is no concluding section. I am just going to stop.
I feel better for getting that off my chest though.
What about you?What are you waiting for?