Archive for June 14th, 2010

As I write, I am waiting for a phone call telling me to come escort someone home from day surgery. I’ve been waiting much of the day for the call, and the surgery has already been delayed several hours, so I find settling to any work almost impossible. The truth is, waiting has never been something that I have endured with much grace, although I have become better with the enforced practice of years.

I was an energetic child, so my inability to wait is unsurprising, really. Although I stopped short of hyper-activity, I always seemed to have more energy than anyone around me, and I usually expressed it in physical activity. Asking me to wait seemed akin to asking me to stand still; I could just barely do it.

Brief bouts of waiting, such as Remembrance Day silences and prayers, were a torment. As for really long waits, such as the week before Christmas or my birthday, or a family vacation – well, let us obscure them with an embarrassed silence. I really don’t want to remember how overbearing a child I could to be, but if I could travel in time, even I would probably want to drown my childhood self, and let the paradoxes fall as they may.

However, learning to wait is part of becoming an adult, unless you’re a child of privilege, which I certainly was not; I was first-generation middle class, and in my neighborhood that made me relatively poor. Inevitably, I learned how to wait in line, to wait for other people to respond or act, and to assume at least the appearance of composure while I did so.

But what first taught me to wait was being a long distance runner. On practice runs, I learned to fall into the rhythm of covering long distances with little more to do than keep a steady pace. Even more importantly, the night before races and in the hours beforehand, I learned to subdue my impatience and direct it towards reviewing on my strategies, containing myself until I could surge out from the starting line at the sound of the gun. Waiting, I discovered, could actually be a way to channel my energies.

Yet even this discovery would not have done much to reconcile me to waiting if I hadn’t discovered a few tricks that I still follow today.

One of my first tricks was to always carry a book with me. People called me bookish – and I am – but to me it just seemed practical. To this day, I still maintain that no time is ever wasted, so long as I have something to read. For the past few years, I’ve expanded this credo to include having a fully-charged music player, but, to a verbally oriented person like me, that is not quite as satisfactory, unless I’m listening to clever lyrics or an intricate classical arrangement that I can mentally dissect.

A strong memory, I found, was another aid to waiting. At one point in mis-spent adolescence, I had the entire soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar memorized, and could play it back in my head, instrument arrangements and all from the start of any song. To this day, I still have a full repertoire of songs and poems that I’ve memorized that I amuse myself with if I have no other resources. At other times, I compose some piece of writing in my head, going over and over the phrases until I have they sound right and I have them memorized.

More recently, learning to troubleshoot a computer and to train parrots have furthered my education in patience, so I can drift into a half-fugue state of intense observation so that I know what to do next.

Yet for all such improvement, I remain the descendant of that overbearing boy, and waiting does not come naturally. If I had a fast-forward button, I would certainly use it on myself. Learning to cope with waiting, I find, is not nearly the same as being reconciled to the necessity.

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