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The waiting game: “The patience of ordinary things.”

Posted on Jun 30, 2012 | 10 Comments

“Patience is also a form of action.”

– Auguste Rodin

Today I found myself sitting inside a homemade teepee.

And while referring to my charges for the day as Tiger Lily and Springtime Pansy, I also found myself concocting an imaginary, medicinal tea from birch bark (is that even possible?) to cure the imaginary coughs they’d caught by sleeping too close to our drafty flap door. Welcome, my friends, to the never-ending adventure that is babysitting.

On another note, I heard back from an agent yesterday who asked to see my complete manuscript. It’s a fun moment – your heart starts racing, your mind running away with possibility, and you begin to think, hey, all those Friday nights spent writing last year weren’t for nothing!

So you send it off – this thing, your baby – and as you sit in a teepee made of sheets, you think, “Is she reading it now? Now? What about now? Is she replying to me at this very moment?”

Then the minute you get home, sheets folded away in the closet, birch tea drunk, and coughs healed, you race to your laptop. Refresh your email. Stare at an empty inbox.

And so the waiting game has begun.

The Waiting Game at the Royal Wedding

Crowds of Londoners waiting to watch the Royal Wedding in Hyde Park.

I was thinking about this all afternoon – about how incredibly awful I am at waiting, at being unable to focus on anything other than what it is I’m waiting for – when I came across a link on Facebook. It was posted by Kirsten Alana, a wonderful travel blogger and photographer known best as an expert in iPhoneography.

The link was titled: “Simple Act of Waiting”

Steve McCurry - Afghan GirlIt turned out to be a blog post from photojournalist Steve McCurry (you’d no doubt recognize his photo, “Afghan Girl,” from the cover of a 1985 issue of National Geographic), filled with photos he’d shot around the world of people waiting.

Crowds of Indians waiting to bathe in the Ganges. A mother and child waiting for medical care in Kabul and refugees waiting in line in Thailand. Even a few shoppers waiting for a bus in Dublin.

Interspersed throughout the images were quotes about waiting, and a final poem by Pat Schneider called “The Patience of Ordinary Things”:

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.
I’ve been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

McCurry’s post was not only beautiful and timely, but humbling – a reminder that the waiting game is a part of our humanity. A reminder that there are millions, billions even, of people waiting for things far more pressing than a reply from an agent.

And that perhaps the best way for me to distract myself right now from an empty inbox is to find some sheets, build a teepee, and keep taking care of a few little Indians.

  • Beautiful post, Candance. I think waiting is really an art – and patience will somehow be remunerated. Like you, I’m not good at waiting for the things I really want. I get stuck in front of the computer waiting for an e-mail reply or take my phone with me to the bathroom so I don’t miss that important call.
    I recently read that this is a drawback from GenYs – that we always expect to be awarded and gratified immediately. We have grown up with the speed of internet and think everything else should move as fast as this (I can actually really relate to this one…). Their key recommendation was to “ease up but don’t give up” – I’m sure she’ll call back the moment you start living your life as usual 🙂

    • Thank you for such a lovely comment, Katherina! You are exactly right about our generation – I read somewhere else about the “Google generation,” which I know I fit right into. I’m so used to having an answer not even within seconds, but within milliseconds, that to truly have to wait for something – whether it’s for an email or for a degree or whatever! – really stretches me. But I also love these opportunities, to feel my patience growing and to learn what it really means to wait. I really like what you say about “ease up, but don’t give up” – I will definitely be writing that one down, thanks! PS – I’ve totally done the phone-in-the-bathroom thing, too 🙂

  • Agreed, it’s a key skill. And I’m terrible at it. I fret. Then I fritter. And suddenly the day is gone and I’ve failed to change gear into doing something else. I cling onto the thing I’m waiting for – just enough to stop me doing anything else. Fatal time-suck.

    David Allen (the GTD guy) recommends putting regular time aside for deciding what to do next, so whenever you hit a period of actual waiting in which it’s easy to feel adrift by not letting go of the thing on your mind that you can’t do anything about, you *instantly* have something more to do, already decided for you. Always thought that was smart. Still haven’t done anything about it. Really must.

    My fingers are crossed for manuscript-related news. 🙂

    • *Whew* I’m so glad it isn’t just me 🙂 So I just checked out one of my favorite sites (www.etymonline.com) to see the root of ‘wait.’ It’s actually from the 12th century, originally meaning “to watch with hostile intent, lie in wait for,” and somewhere along the line came from the Old English word wacian for “to be awake.” Kind of interesting how active those two definitions are, especially the “hostile intent” part (scary much?), which goes right with what David Allen’s advice says, about fighting the drift and staying grounded. Maybe one of my new goals is to be a much more active waiter and less of a fritterer…

      By the way, I’ve decided to embarrass myself and admit I’d never heard of David or GTD, but am oh so grateful to you for the head’s up. I love what he says here: “we help people get focused on what they need to do. Focus on doing the things that matter with a clearer understanding of why,” and I can’t wait to read through some more of his stuff. Thanks!

      Hope you’re well and that you managed to survive the drum-machine-kazoo-music-disaster today 🙂

  • Ah, how well I know this feeling! As I wait for our travels to begin I have battled with my patience (or lack of) on an almost daily basis. I have also spent many an afternoon in a teepee, or playing Thomas the Tank with a rambunctious three year old who has a disturbing habit of grabbing my boobs! Oh, the things we do to fuel our dreams and pass the time until THAT moment finally arrives. I am sure your agent will be in touch soon, she is probably just taking her time, savouring your words… and in the meantime you can savour your birch bark tea 🙂

    • Hannah, your comment made my day! I loved hearing about your own pre-adventure adventures, as you might call them, and I’m slowly beginning to think that maybe they are as much a part of our story as when the moment we think we’re waiting for finally arrives. The waiting, the anticipation, the anxious moments when we’re betwixt and between – those are the times when our faith and belief in our dreams are truly tried and proven. It’s been wonderful following your blog up to this point, and I can’t wait to connect once we’re on Indian soil 🙂 x

  • Candace, what a beautiful post. Such a simple thing but you have articulated it so eloquently. I am familiar with the photo series by Steve McCurry that you mentioned – He is an amazing photographer and I often go back and scroll through his work when things get too overwhelming. He seems to have an image to calm just about everything!

    I, too, am absolutely useless when it comes to waiting. It’s like torture. Well, almost. I recently spent three hours (seriously) standing in a line at immigration at Heathrow Airport and thought my head was going to explode! (I buried said head in a book and hoped for the best.)
    Patience is definitely an art that we are clearly yet to master. But keep waiting, and checking that inbox….I really hope it is good news for you and I can’t wait to hear it 🙂

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Cherina! It’s been encouraging to hear that I’m not the only one who does a terrible job at waiting patiently 🙂 And I truly feel your pain with that wait at Heathrow…although mine has never taken three hours! Are you still in London at the moment?

      And I’m so glad to have discovered Steve’s site recently…I’ve already spent many hours poring over his latest posts. I’m so drawn to the way he groups photos together by theme (how he keeps track of all his pictures, I would love to know!) and includes so many thoughtful quotes and poems. I’ll definitely be a frequent visitor to his blog from now on.

  • For me, I don’t know that waiting is the torture. I think it’s the mind games. “What about now? Now? Does she like it? What if she doesn’t like it?”

    You’ll hear soon enough. Well, maybe not enough. But my fingers are crossed for you that it’ll be sooner rather than later.

    • Hmm, I like your perspective on this. I think it’s much the same for me, but perhaps the longer the waiting, the more the mind games act up 🙂 Thanks for your kind words!