It has been said (by me, in one of my Pot-Shots epigrams) that “Sometimes it seems all of life is a waiting room.”
One of the “Beat” poets of the 1950s wrote a poem which consisted of nothing but the word “wait,” repeated hundreds of times, covering an entire page – except for the very last word, which was “NOW.”
That’s how it is, isn’t it? You wait and wait, almost endlessly, as it sometimes seems, until whatever you are waiting for finally happens.
That is, of course, if it ever does… Devout Jews are still waiting for the coming of the Messiah. Devout Christians are still waiting for his Second Coming. Thomas Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon are still waiting for Godot.
Prisoners wait to be released. Children wait to get out of class, or out of school. Farmers are waiting for crops to ripen – just as expectant parents wait for their own “planting” to bear fruit. Nearly all of us are waiting for something nearly all the time – except when we’re asleep. That is one of the many wonderful things about sleeping. It’s almost proverbial that many of the things we’re waiting for do happen – but only in our dreams.
There are, of course, special places dedicated to waiting. They are even called “Waiting rooms,” except some of the fancier ones, which may be dignified as “lounges,” “vestibules,” or “foyers.” And what are we to do there while we wait? The assumption used to be that wait-ers were fond of old magazines – though it can now be safely assumed that most of those waiting will have brought their own personal electronic devices, which can indeed provide great comfort and diversion.
My own favorite waiting-occupation is doing crossword puzzles. If they’re not too easy or too hard, if they’re fair and free of trickery, I find nothing so absorbing. Among their delights are that (1) you need not know all the answers in order to reach the solution, (2) you often find out how much you know, that you didn’t know you knew, (3) there is scope for enlightened guessing, (4) you can put aside a puzzle at which you feel hopelessly stuck – and, more often than not, the next time you come back to it, you will see answers that you didn’t see before, and (5) there is tremendous satisfaction in solving a difficult puzzle. (And all of this I discovered only late in life. Somehow in my earlier years, these puzzles had no attraction for me.)
But none of such “pass-times” occupy the body very much, only the mind – unlike once-popular waiting-activities such as knitting or whittling. They are, however, at least relatively unobjectionable, compared with that other, fortunately now rarely tolerated, activity of smoking.
Smoking tobacco was a good way of occupying the hands and the mouth, and it no doubt provided certain satisfactions to habitués while they were waiting. Unfortunately, various aspects of the activity were obnoxious to many others not engaged in it. But, with freedom so highly valued in our culture, it was not until smoking could be proven to be of great potential harm to the health of those engaged in it, as well as to those involuntarily exposed to it, that society could begin to come to grips with this problem – which is still rampant in many parts of the world.
But we have yet to consider the romantic aspect of waiting. Lovers traditionally are pledged to wait for each other, in the sense of not becoming involved with anyone else until their love can be consummated – or they can be reunited (especially in wartime).
There are innumerable songs and stories on this theme. But the most poignant example I know is at least based on a true historical episode, which began in San Francisco, at a time when Spain and Russia were contending for control of the North American West Coast. California was still governed by Spain when, in 1806, a visiting Russian official, Nikolai Rezanov, and Concepcion Arguello – the 15-year-old daughter of the Spanish governor – met and fell in love. Rezanov had to sail away but promised to return and marry Concepcion, after he had secured the Tsar’s permission to do so. She waited for him her whole life (so one version of the story goes) and ended her days in a convent in 1857, never knowing that Rezanov had died in 1807 while making his way across Siberia to reach the Tsar in St. Petersburg.
Now that is waiting!