Sunday, March 7, 2010

The waiting game.

I hate to wait in line. And recently I was thinking about the thrift of time, in all its ubiquity.

And in thinking about time not thriftily spent, there are lots and lots of examples.

Of course there's waiting in line. Banks, grocery stores, movie theaters, restaurants.

Then there's the driving. The traffic jams. The left turns. The construction that requires a detour.

And what about people we wait for and later pay handsomely? The doctor, dentist, hair stylist.

We wait for a human to answer the phone as we wait on hold. We wait for our computers to boot up, wait for music to download, wait for programs to start.

To bring the idea of waiting home, literally, here's a chunk from my world: I texted my kids this evening to let them know I was on may way to get them, specifically to avoid having to wait for them to get ready. And I waited. Waited.

While I was waiting, I thought about the idea of waiting.

No one waits because they want to. They wait because they have to. The waiting is a means to an end. It's the carrot on the stick of productivity. We wait, we get through the line, the download, the detour, and we're closer to where we want to be.

And where's that?

Everyone seems so busy, and I'm no exception. Calendars need to be consulted just to get together for coffee with a friend. Kids and their activities require a driver. The house needs to be maintained. And then of course there's the Real Job that needs its share of attention.

Despite how busy we all are, we're idling while we wait. I learned that each person who lives to be 70 years old spends, on average, plus or minus three of those years waiting. Just waiting.

So it's a paradox, this waiting game. As a culture, we seem to have virtually no extra time. Life's become increasingly complicated. Fancy electronic devices have been created simply to help us open our window of free time a fraction of an inch.

Yet we take it as a matter of course that we wait our turn. It's only polite.

And when years roll by, we've lost a big chunk of our lives to something very simple. Waiting.

I know there are meditation advocates who suggest taking those moments we spend waiting to practice mindful breathing and other relaxing pasttimes.

And I know I'm impatient, but sometimes I can almost hear my life passing before my eyes. The last place I want to spend it is waiting for things that simply get me closer to where I want to really be.

So what's the conclusion to attempting to be thifty with time, to minimize the waiting game?

Some of the waiting simply can't be stopped, unless you're extremely rich or very famous. Then you can afford to pay someone else to move your waiting game piece around the board.

But maybe we can simplify. Putting it even more simply, maybe I can simplify.

And at the core of the waiting is understanding that we're all in the same boat. Everyone waits, no matter how busy we are. Except that rich and famous guy with the assistant who's made to wait.

So a little compassion goes a long way in this busy world.

It doesn't mean I like to wait.

It does mean I can be economical in my impatience, and try a little tenderness.

We're all just waiting. We may as well make the best of it.


  1. Argh, waiting... I've also heard that we spend about a third of our lives sleeping too. Isn't that strange to think about?

  2. Great post Mary! Now, I am going to wait on my morning coffee... :)

  3. I'd doing the same thing! Tick tock!

  4. hey, that clock is freaking me out. if you stare at it a long time . . .

    or maybe it's just the cold medicine.