How Long Until the Next Delay?
As far as I know, there is no such thing as impatient dreaming. Sleep takes as long as it takes, and, when you wake, you have to consult your timepiece to be sure how long you’ve been away in that strange other world.
But in this waking, conscious world which (for want of a better term) we call Reality, we seem to spend much of our time waiting. In fact, most of our public facilities, from doctors’ offices to airline terminals, come with special waiting-areas. We are waiting to see some person, or for something to arrive, or something to happen.
And of course, our whole life is, in a sense, a waiting-room, in which we wait to see when and how it will end.
This predicament obviously calls for a great deal of patience, which my dictionary neatly defines as “calm endurance.” Some of us seem to be specially endowed with that quality. This was one of the many ways in which I differed from my wife, who was able to sit quietly in a waiting-room, never showing any signs of unrest, while I would be pacing up and down, frequently looking at the clock, and, as often as I dared, pestering the person at the desk, to complain about the delay.
Shakespeare (in Twelfth Night) speaks of a silently lovelorn lady sitting “like Patience on a monument.” The monument he had in mind would most likely have been some type of tombstone, on which an allegorical figure would appear, representing the eternal waiting of grief. But Hamlet is less patient, offering, in a famous soliloquy, “the law’s delay” as one of the “whips and scorns of time” which might justify suicide.
But of course, there are ways of relieving this curse of delays over which we have no control. While sitting in a waiting-room you can do crosswords (one of my own favorite distractions), read magazines (whatever miserable selection is offered), or – much more frequently nowadays – engage with some electronic device.
But what if not just a few people, but a whole crowd – say a stadium-full – are all waiting impatiently for the big game, or some other event, to start, or resume, after some unexplained delay? In Britain, they have a wonderful way of expressing their displeasure: the entire multitude bursts into song! And there is one song they all know, which has only four words, which are sung over and over again: “WHY ARE WE WAITING?” They sing it to the tune of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” – and to hear that many voices, singing such a stirring melody in unison, can in itself be a thrilling experience – especially if many or most of the crowd are from Wales, which is rightly known as a land of song. It can almost make the waiting seem worthwhile.
But it seems to be wartime which imposes the almost literally crying need for patience, especially among those who are forced to remain behind, waiting to learn the fate of their loved ones on the fighting fronts. My entire childhood was spent in an era bombarded with ballads on the theme of “when you come home again.” Another keynote was how much better the world would be, after the war was over. One song not only promised that there would be “blue birds over the White Cliffs of Dover,” but went so far as to predict that there would be “love and laughter, and peace ever after, tomorrow, when the world is free.”
But the absent ones had their own musical yearning, with such songs as “Don’t Sit Under the Apple-Tree With Anybody Else But Me – till I come marching home.”
Many of my own epigrams have been colored by this theme. Once at a bus-stop, something I heard a mother tell her child, who was getting tired of waiting for the bus, inspired me to write what became one of my most popular epigrams:
“Be patient – the longer you wait for me, the sooner I’ll arrive.”
But, lest this sounds too optimistic, I also wrote that:
“Everything takes longer than you expect –
even when you expect it to take longer than you expect.”
If I haven’t yet soothed your own impatience, I will let Longfellow have the last word, with the final stanza of his magnificent “Psalm of Life”:
“Let us then be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate,
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor – and to wait.”