You know what I’m talking about. Everyone plays the waiting game. All the time. I’ve had cause recently to reflect on waiting and have come to the conclusion that there are many different types of waiting, but they all come down to a delicate balance of the same things: time, patience and discipline, and circumstance. On one end of the scale is time. The time that you have to wait for whatever it is you need / want. And your job if you’re playing, is to balance out the other end of the scale with the correct balance of patience and discipline which is mixed in with a random amount of random circumstance for that extra element of surprise! The smaller the amount of time you have to wait, the less balancing you have to do against it and therefore the easiest it is to win at the waiting game.
So do you have the patience and the mental discipline? When you have done all that you can do, and your only option is to wait for the results, some people have the amazing mental fortitude to just… move on to the next thing. They can temper their impatience and focus on other things, other projects, other tasks. Others are unable to do more than fret and obsess, bringing their life to a near-standstill until their waiting game ends.
The time you’re balancing against? Well that depends on what you’re waiting for. And people wait for everything and anything. Exam results, delayed trains, job promotions, the successful end of a pregnancy, letters from a long-distance lover, project approval, the next paycheque, surgery results, house purchase contracts, the oven timer until the brownies are just about right, the next season of your favourite TV show, the next installment of Star Wars. Counting down the days until you can finish blogging daily… The list is infinite because almost all of life is composed of waiting for something, big or small.
And as for circumstance? Well that’s the magic ingredient that determines how much of the other stuff you need to make the scales balance. And this is when the universe rolls the dice and decides on how much it wants to screw around with you. It seems that much of the modern world is built around the inherent conflict between instant and delayed gratification. You can have so many things on demand now that were unthinkable in the previous generation – everything from music in your pocket, online purchases of almost anything worldwide, infinite amounts of information at your fingertips, instant communication near and far. And yet at the same time as it hooks you in with the readily available luxury and entertainment it makes you wait … for the next movie, the next album, the next upgrade, the next installment, just after the next commercial break. Life has been turned into an endless commercial manipulation of the waiting game to the point where we don’t even think about it at all.
But strip all that away down to the essence of our lives, our interactions, and it’s really not about balancing patience and circumstance but about the different kinds of waiting that we all do. We wait both passively and actively. As young people we are ever impatient to grow up. We wait for the next exciting thing, for tomorrow, for being tall enough to run faster, reach higher, do more. We wait for Santa to come. We wait for school to end, and for holidays to begin. We anxiously wait for our exam results that determine what we choose to do with the next stage of our lives. We meet new people, make friends, fall in love, and wait with complete impatience until we can see that person again, hear them, hold their hand. We wait for trains, planes and automobiles. We wait with excitement and terror for the birth of our children, trying (but failing) to imagine at what it will feel like when we can finally hold them in our hands. We wait with frustrated exhaustion as we search for the perfect house that we both love and can afford. And when we think we can’t wait anymore, we have to wait for the convoluted process of completing a transaction. We wait on agents and inspectors and lawyers and we pay them and wait some more. We wait for the week to end so that we can enjoy the weekend. We wait for our next holiday. We wait with trepidation for the baby monitor to make noise. We yearn for the weight scales to show us more flattering numbers and can never make it happen as fast as we want. We craft hand-made items and anxiously anticipate the finished object even as we work away, impatient to see that which started off as just a spark of an idea in our mind.
We impatiently wait for our children to become more patient.
We agonisingly wait for news from the other side of a hospital door. Or the other end of the phone, hoping and worrying and praying.
We wait with hope, with dread, with anticipation, frustration, love, anxiety, excitement. We wait with patience or without it. We wait with acceptance or with indignation or with resignation.
We all play the waiting game, doing everything within our power to wait less, or to at least make the waiting itself more bearable, trying to keep busy at one thing while we wait for another.
I am waiting for news and in the meantime I pretend as if I’m not waiting on anything at all, and life moves on around me. Sometimes, choosing how we conduct ourselves while we wait is the only control we have in the waiting game.