Everyone must wait. Like it or not, waiting seems to be an unfortunately time-consuming and necessary part of the human experience. Whether it’s standing in line for the bathroom, sitting at a table in a fancy restaurant, or refreshing our email for a college acceptance letter, waiting happens and happens often. Everytime I anticipate a wait, my first thought is, “is this wait really worth it?” Should I really wait for the third floor bathroom when the second floor one is just a 1.5 min walk away? Should I wait 7 mins for an uber or walk 7 mins to the subway? Is it worth waiting for my friend to text me back or should I just her call now?
For me, attempting to avoid any sort of wait has become my default reaction. If the line at Starbucks is long, I’ll walk to the gas station for tea. If I arrive early for plans, I’ll pace around the neighborhood up until the second I need to be stationed at the meeting place. My brain sometimes just can’t handle the uncertainty of waiting. Does this line look like an under or over 5 minute wait?? I’ll mentally rework a line to make it look not so long. There are three registers open (but one hasn’t moved for over 4 mins because a woman is trying to pay with an expired coupon and now the manager has to get involved) and 17 people in front of me, 2 obvious families, 3 single people, and a friend group (who I very much hope is paying together)….
There is something so distasteful about waiting. Are we humans really capable of doing nothing? We drum our fingers, tap our toes, and squirm like we’re uncomfortable messes if we’re compelled to wait without entertainment. And, when we have our phones, these devices automatically become our escape.
Today, I had an interesting waiting experience. I was commuting home on Boston’s subway (known as the “T”) during rush hour. The platform already had a fair amount of people on it by the time I had arrived. When the train chugged in 5 mins later, both the platform and cars were packed. It soon became clear that far fewer people were going to exit this train than attempt to enter. The “T” station has monitors, which inform riders of the subsequent train’s arrival time. I checked the monitor and saw that the next train was but two minutes away. In that moment, I decided that this actually could be worth the wait. While getting home quickly was certainly important, I decided that two minutes was a tiny sacrifice for breathing space on the T (and a chance to read my book of short stories! See post: Read and Listen).
And, sure enough, the next train did come only two minutes later. While the train was equally packed, there were far fewer people gathered on the platform and there was enough room in the cars for the doors to automatically close completely on the first try. I’m glad I made the decision to wait. I do not need to pretend to myself that I must be so efficient and rush all the time. I don’t have to catch the train just because it’s in the station and I don’t have to feel devastated for having to wait a few extra minutes.
Sometimes we just need to relax. A few extra minutes of waiting can be time to read, write, chat, or even reflect. Waiting is inevitable. Waiting with feelings of dread, preoccupation, and complaints is a choice. The next time we are put on hold or must sit patiently for our co-worker to arrive at the meeting, instead of thinking about all of the time that we’ve lost, Dear Reader, we could think about all of the unexpected moments that we’ve gained.