In the aftermath of the holidays, after the celebrations are over and visiting family members have departed, I’ve experienced that little gray cloud of letdown. A mild case of the blues. Even boredom. The house is blessedly quiet, yet it’s been an abrupt change, though not unwelcome. But I’ve dragged myself through the week; the to-do list of tasks lying idle on my desk, and monotony threatening to invade my waking hours. I checked the mailbox more often than usual, my email too, as if I was waiting for something—anything—to happen.
How much of our lives are taken up by waiting? Whether for a letter of acceptance, the arrival of a loved one from overseas, the long lines at the airport security checkpoint, flight delays, a friend who calls to say she’s caught in traffic and will be late, or the boredom of sitting in the doctor’s office, impatiently thumbing through magazines, we wait.
What you do with time
is what a grandmother clock
does with it: strike twelve
and take its time doing it.
You’re the clock: time passes,
you remain. And wait.
Waiting is what happens to
a snow-covered garden,
a trunk under moss,
hope for better times…
(From “Mother,” in The Plural of Happiness: Selected Poems of Herman de Coninck, translated by Kurt Brown, 2006.)
Waiting, a novel by Ha Jin, captures the poignant dilemma of a Chinese man, Lin, whose life is dominated by duty. He is caught in a loveless marriage arranged by his traditional parents, but Lin lives far away in an army hospital compound, visiting his wife only once a year. He becomes attracted to a nurse in the hospital where he works, but Communist party rules prevent him from divorcing his wife without her permission until they have been separated for 18 years. Year after year, Lin returns to his village to ask his wife for his freedom, and year after year, he returns, still married, unable to consummate his love affair. The irony comes at the end, when Lin concludes that he “waited eighteen years just for the sake of waiting.”
In the Vong Phu region of Vietnam, a stone statue of a woman, To Thi, perches on the peak of Vong Phu Mountain, named for the legend of To Thi, a Lang Son woman who lived centuries ago. She unwittingly married her long-lost brother, and when he learned the truth, her husband volunteered to go to war. To Thi carried her baby to the peak of a mountain to wait for him, but he never returned. Legend has it that she waited so long, she and her baby turned to stone. She still stands, her baby on her back, looking toward the sky in longing. (The mountain was later named Vong Phu, which means “waiting for husband.”)
“Are you waiting for time to show you some better thoughts?” William Stafford asks his readers in the poem, “You Reading This, Be Ready,” (The Way It Is, 1998) reminding us of the importance of being aware and present in our daily lives and how much we can miss by waiting for something that hasn’t yet happened.
What do you wait for? When has waiting kept you from noticing, the life around you? Do you remember a particular time when your life seemed as if it was consumed by waiting? What was happening in your life at the time? This week, write about waiting.