i kept an eye on that clock. the minute hand seemed to be moving like mud through molasses. or maybe it was up there taking a bit of a snooze.
after all, it was — and i knew this because despite the sleepy part’s insistence otherwise, despite its inclination to give up and quit the one job that it has in this world, it was still telling time — and the time that it told me was that, yes indeed, it was minutes away from the middle, the deepest dark hour, of the night.
and the child i’d last seen a few hours ago, when i dropped him off at the curb in the snow and the glow of a street lamp, well, he was out coursing the roads, the roads getting icy, and i was there in the kitchen thrumming my fingers, pretending to read, but really i wasn’t paying one bit of attention.
my attention, instead, was rather devotedly glued to the hands of the clock and the knob on the door that i was willing to hear make a click.
someone’s home, it would say. the someone you wanted to see is safe now, is here. is back from the place where you have utterly no control. where cars can cross lines and odd things can happen. where outcomes are wholly, eternally, always, left to fat chance.
not home. not there in the view of your eyes where you can be a little more certain — if not utterly 100-percent guaranteed–that all will be well.
and so in the abyss that plunges between those two cliffs — uncertainty and certainty — i engaged in the ancient and timeless art of waiting.
to wait, sometimes, is to be pregnant with hope. sometimes to wait is to dread. but that’s not the case, not really, when it’s a child you birthed who is out in the world, and it’s dark and it’s late and you would like once again to hear the clomp of his feet sloshing snow on the rug in the hall.
to this particular species of waiting, you realize quite quickly, you are quite new, quite unaccustomed. you only just now are getting a taste of the trials that come with the letting out of the spool that, until now, you kept rather close to the palm of your hand.
the art of waiting for someone you love, someone to please come home, is an art that has lost some of its power here in the day of the cellular tether. worried? give a call. can’t find? cell can.
back through the history of time, though, there has been waiting and waiting. penelope waited for odysseus. civil war mothers waited for soldier sons. and now i, a mother whose son had just lost his cell phone, waited for mine.
odd thing, the book that was waiting with me, the book i was allegedly reading, the book whose words my eyes at least glanced at but didn’t take in, not so much anyway, was a book with a passage on waiting.
as the clock ticked ever-so-slowly, i passed over again the letters spilled there on the page.
this time i read:
“waiting, because it will always be with us, can be made a work of art, and the season of advent invites us to underscore and understand with a new patience that very feminine state of being, waiting.
“our masculine world wants to blast away waiting from our lives. we equate waiting with wasting. so we build concorde planes, drink instant coffee, roll out green plastic and call it turf, and reach for the phone before we reach for the pen. the more life asks us to wait, the more we anxiously hurry.”
the author of these words is gertrud mueller nelson, whose book, “to dance with God,” (paulist press, 1986) is a treatise on ritual, and one of those rare books that offers more, plentiful more, with each reading.
she encourages us to practice the art of waiting, the art of delayed gratification. our children, most of all, need to practice and practice, she urges. and this time before christmas, this time when the world is rushing so madly, she suggests in a deep counter-cultural challenge, is the peak time to settle in and make the most of the incubation that begs our attention.
“brewing, baking, simmering, fermenting, ripening, germinating, gestating are the feminine processes of becoming and they are the symbolic states of being which belong in a life of value, necessary to transformation,” nelson writes.
and i listen.
is not the slowing of time, and the quickening of attention, the whole point of our practice here? are we not, day after day, looking to slow the e-z, the instant, the world without pause?
are we not working to learn to cup in our hands, the winged butterfly landed amid his long flight, the holiest waters of life as they’re poured? are we not trying to stop, take a drink, quench the unquenchable thirst?
what then to do with the minutes near midnight, when the child you love, the child just starting to be off on his own, finding his way in the dark, isn’t home yet?
i suppose i could fritter away the slow-moving minutes. picture the car on the side of the road. the children jolting. the call that won’t come.
or, i could sink down to a deeper place in my heart. i could rumble around, think of the ways that he keeps me in stitches. think of the light in his eyes. picture the mop of his curls. remember the rhythm with which he plucked on his big double bass, there at the edge of the stage, when the light happened to shine and catch the tops of his curls.
i could take hold of the minutes of waiting and savor the blessing of beholding the boy who i love. i could practice the art of filling with hope. being pregnant to life and the possibility that requires some time, takes no short cut.
i could simmer some thought, brew a tall pot of ideas. i could ripen to love.
and when the click of the door comes, and the slosh of the very big shoes, i could sigh.
the long wait is over. my blessing spills over the side of the pan, roasting there in the slow, hot oven.
do you practice the art of waiting? do you try to savor the slow road in the interstate world that offers express lanes? in this wintry season of waiting, how do you make the most of blessed incubation?
speaking of this wintry season, i managed to find time to do a little housekeeping here at the chair over the weekend. and what spins on the lazy susan is new, is december, is plentiful. please give it a whirl.
and just in case you’ve been aware of the calendar, as i have, tomorrow is the very last day of our first year. i’ll have some thinks on the year, so please do come back. the coffee will be hotter, the cake on the platter just a little bit sweeter. do stop by for a visit. love, the chair lady
very last thing: bless you to julie for sending me to “the dance with God” in the first place. it was a fine friend while waiting the other night.