I am waiting for my appointment. I look at my watch. It has gone to five past the hour. I look around. The phone is ringing occasionally. The television is on, but it is muted. There is a water filter in the corner with white plastic cups on the side. A children’s table with colouring pens and two small chairs sit neatly next to the couch. The other person who is also waiting is gazing abstractedly in my direction. I am not sure if she is watching the television, which is situated right next to me or is she watching me? I shift uneasily. I close my eyes to remind myself why I am here.
“Hi! You must be…” jolts me out of my stillness.
We do a lot of waiting in life. Waiting is part and parcel of living.
So much waiting is performed, waiting for a test result; an appointment; a phone call; waiting for love, or for our loved ones to come home. Waiting for food; waiting in line; waiting for coffee; waiting for a response; waiting to be accepted or rejected; waiting for validation; waiting for the children to grow up; waiting for the birth of a baby; waiting for seasons to change.
What are you waiting for, right now?
How would I describe waiting? Elsewhere on Medium, I have written on waiting as a period of transformation. While most of us might think that we do nothing while we wait. I beg to disagree. As we wait, it appears as if nothing active is happening. But, things are happening as we wait. In our short-sightedness, we cannot peer beyond ourselves to see what is happening around us at the time.
The Purpose of Waiting
Waiting can be a time for stillness; a time of restlessness; and, or, a time of transformation. We may not agree on the purpose(s) of waiting, and there is unlikely to be a single purpose but, we can agree that waiting involves passing time.
Whether we like it or not, change usually ensues after a period of waiting.
For nine months, I waited for my baby to be born. I was growing this beautiful human in my body. Even though I was also stressed out from dealing with the problems at work, I wanted to be at peace and happy for my baby. In the waiting room at the obstetrician’s office, I was fidgeting excitedly, waiting to see my baby on screen of the ultrasound machine. I was also a little apprehensive and worried.
What if there is no heartbeat? If there is no outcome, is the wait meaningless?
I had so many questions.
Later, I emerged from the appointment feeling relieved and reassured that everything was indeed going smoothly and as planned. I worried for nothing. It is natural for our minds to wander as our bodies lie inactive, waiting. Great writing is also accomplished during the period of waiting! Learning to wait is a virtue — the practise of delayed gratification — which, if I can postulate, makes us better people.
Waiting deepens the spirit and strengthens character. Waiting transforms us. We can use waiting time to focus on the positive instead of dwelling on the negative. In other words, we can choose what we do with passing time. Rather than let time dictate our rhythms,
let us dance to its beats.
The Waiting Room
“Come in… I am sorry to keep you waiting.” I was finally ushered into a neatly arranged office.
All year, we had been waiting for our December holiday which, we had booked earlier this year. Christmas is also the children’s favourite time of the year. The children would finish school. The husband would apply for leave and take the much needed time off from work. Little did we expect, in addition to the travel and preparation for the festive season, we would also be grieving for the passing of my mother-in-law.
She passed away unexpectedly with stage IV cancer.
My mother-in-law was a robust woman and a devout Catholic. She touched people with her love and her prayers. Her illness was met with widespread disbelief. The news of her terminal diagnosis arrived very late in the day, and little could be done for her by then. As we waited anxiously to receive confirmation of her test results by phone, time was passing and she was miles away from us on a hospital bed slowly fading away.
Depending on your beliefs, life can be thought of as a huge circular waiting room with countless doors and windows of opportunities. As Critchley points out, “for Heidegger, we are time”. As we stand with others, or stand-alone, in this cosmic waiting room called life, we stand in relation to passing time; and, the waiting draws us into a poignant awareness of our human finitude. We may be waiting for opportunities to take action or inaction; to struggle or obey; to speak or stay silent, and the list goes on. What we choose to do while waiting for the door to open is entirely up to us.
As Chinua Achebe said in his conversation with Eleanor Wachtel in 1994,
“I feel that there has to be a purpose to what we do. If there was no hope at all, we should just sleep or drink and wait for death. But we don’t want to do that. And why? I think something tells us that we should struggle. We don’t really know why we should struggle, but we do, because we think it’s better than sitting down and waiting for calamity.”
Waiting As A Call to Action
Sometimes, waiting is a sign that we are slow to act. For example, why are we waiting to take action to address climate change?
This artistic masterpiece by Isaac Cordel (2012) represents waiting as inaction. In this photograph, human beings are depicted as passive, clutching to their last shreds of human dignity as they are drowning in a sea of ash and sand caused by their (or our) lack of response in the face of a climate disaster. Sullivan says this portrayal aptly describes the “absurdity of our collective inertia regarding climate change”,
We, the collective we, seem to be waiting passively for someone else to “do something” about climate change. Someone else to think. Someone else to act. Someone else to lead. Not me. Not now. No way.
The rising sea (of sand), or as I prefer it, ash, created in Cordal’s masterpiece is no longer a fantasy. It is now a reality. As I type this, the ashes from the prolonged bushfires in New South Wales in Australia has turned Sydney’s beaches black. In this SBS news report, a beachgoer was quoted saying, “Everyone was covered in ash, it was all through our bathers, all through our eyes and ears”. If this does not chime with Cordal’s masterpiece, then truly, we mirror, no wait… we are the impassive, pessimistic, precariously drowning tiny clay figurines.
For me, Cordal’s ‘waiting for climate change’ masterpiece gives artistic license to Dante’s description of a man’s soul caught between the realms of heaven and earth. In Convivo, Book 3 Chapter 7, Dante wrote,
“…the human soul, which is partly free from matter and partly impeded by it, like a man who is entirely in the water except for his head, of whom it cannot be said that he is entirely in the water or entirely out of it…”
We, like these mini clay figurines, are at present “not entirely in the water or entirely out of it”. We are metaphorically drowning as we do nothing but wait for politicians to act on our behalf. The waiting room is very full of people, young and old, you and I included, who are not dancing.
Instead, we are waiting devoid of purpose and turning a deaf ear to taking action.
Heidegger may yet be proven right about the tri-prism nature of time. Critchley surmises that Heidegger’s thesis in Being and Time is that the present is but a bridge between the past and future. As (we) humans project towards the future, we hope and anticipate for a change, something entirely different, perhaps even something better. But, what comes out of the future instead (when we get there and realise) is nothing more than the ghosts of our past.
By that time, it is too late for change.
The waiting is over.