The exquisite agony of waiting

The exquisite agony of waiting

It happens everywhere, all day long. There isn’t a moment in any day when someone, somewhere isn’t waiting for something.

They might be looking at a protruding stomach waiting for their baby’s birth or standing in line waiting to order lunch. They might even be staring at a phone waiting for a return text message while the three moving dots suggest someone is typing, waiting for commercials to end to see whether the contestants won on a game show — or waiting for word from a school of choice.

I have a friend who is writhing through the exquisite agony of the school wait-list.

He tries to think about other things, like the exams he has this week, the fate of his beloved baseball team in a game or the plans for his long-awaited summer.

To his credit, my friend has allowed himself to stop thinking about the school decision over which he has no control at this point. Well, most of the time.

He’d like to pick up the phone, call the school and ask, as politely as possible, if he got in today.

When we’re younger, we struggle with the wait of a coming birthday, Christmas, Hanukkah or a vacation.

We check the calendar months in advance, planning a party, considering the invitation list, ordering food we may barely taste because we’re so preoccupied playing with our friends that day.

In the days that lead up to the birthday, the clock drags, slowed down by our desire to get to Friday.

The night before children receive numerous presents during a holiday, sleep evades them, as they wonder what’s wrapped and ready the next morning.

If we’re lucky, birthdays and holidays are almost guaranteed to bring presents, even if the bike isn’t the right color or the sweater doesn’t fit.

Those waits are more like yield signs on a highway, where we know, eventually, we’ll merge onto our preferred roadway.

To continue with the road analogy, what if the wait is like a yellow light and the next step is a red light?

If the light turns red — in this case, the school calls to share their disappointment that the person won’t be able to attend — does my friend wish he could go back in time to the waiting period, where a “yes” was still a possibility?

Is not knowing our fate more difficult than receiving a definitive answer? It depends on whom you ask. For some people, the notion of waiting for some kind of resolution is far worse than solid information. They move on with their lives once they hear the news.

For others, the wait allows them to play emotional ping-pong, throwing themselves from one side of a possibility to the other. The resolution can make them feel as if the game with themselves has ended, requiring that they make new decisions with new wait times.

While people wait, they often look for signs. If a school stays in touch, maybe that means he is closer to getting in. If a light turns green just as he arrives at the intersection, maybe that also means good news
is coming.

We wait for so much: For someone to call on us when we raise our hand, for someone we like to pay
attention to us, for a doctor to “see us now” and for the opportunity to do something extraordinary.

Given how much of our lives involve waiting, you’d think we’d be experts at it. And yet, every so often, we hold our breath and hope the delay is only temporary, making the next step — or the next wait — that much sweeter.

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