Yesterday was our baby’s so-called “due date.” Strangely, rather than bringing excitement, being “past due” brought a wave of emotion—from impatience to full-on stress. I know that due dates are just best guesses; I wish “due windows” were more the norm than giving us some arbitrary day that only works for 5 percent of babies.
Between hikes, coffee dates, trips to the city, mad stretches of organizing 500 square feet, sleeping, and wondering what day it is anyway (ah, mat leave), I’ve been thinking a lot about waiting and its cohort, anticipation. The particular flavor of waiting for this baby is new to me, and so, in the face of the unfamiliar, I look to analogies from things known, repeated, and dear.
Waiting for you is like waiting for …
Christmas. When you can’t sleep because your heart is flipping with excitement at the toys that will soon be yours. Five more sleeps, then two, then one, and finally, it’s time to arrange shortbread cookies on a plate for Santa and carrots for the reindeer; a secular sacrament left on the mantle. But I can’t just pour a glug of eggnog and start counting down the sugarplum-studded hours until you arrive.
The first day of school. Dressed in our carefully picked outfits, we stage the same front stoop photo as we did the year before. Our backpacks smell of new erasers and plastic pencil cases, despite the aged and dusty smell of fall around us. This was a different kind of waiting, tinged with the unfamiliar. Would we like our teacher, would we get picked for the right team in PE, would last year’s friends be this year’s, too.
Summer vacation. The minivan packed, and the drive passing by painfully even as Prairie fields whipped by windows dirtied by our oily chins and grimy fingerprints. After the Lockport A&W, the waterslides, Lower Fort Garry, we’d begin to catch glimpses of Lake Winnipeg, a shimmering grey blur at the end of unpaved roads. Every year we’d have a contest to see who could spot this great inland ocean first. Before we knew it, there came the big yellow house on the corner, a few more ragged driveways, and then our family cottage—a trove of campfires and sidewalk play, old books and secrets. Our cousins would run out to the street, the green wood-framed screen door clapping in celebration behind them.
Travel. The tickets bought and the first night booked, but beyond that, only moments waiting to be loved, memorialized. Equal parts exhilaration and fear—the best kind of cocktail, bursting with possibility.
Race day. The is training done, the gels are rationed, the gear bags packed and the helmet sticker stuck. My veins pulse with pent-up energy, battling my mind, which knows how important it is to be calm. Everyone cares so much about my well being: I feel like a mini celebrity with my athlete bracelet and special meal requests. Despite all my preparation, the day’s physical and mental battles are remain puzzles, strangers.
How I feel about your arrival is a little bit like all of these things.
Waiting is beautiful. In a world where we can have anything delivered to our door or our screens in an instant, waiting returns us to a more primal place. When time crawls, surrender gets easier.
To close, I leave you with highlights from an article I enjoyed recently from Philosophy Now on this very topic.
“The more I think about it, the bigger waiting appears. It fills so much of our lives … It comes in a thousand shapes and sizes and modes. A few examples will have to stand for a trillion instances: waiting for someone to finish a sentence; for a friend to catch up on a walk; for the bathwater to run warm; for the traffic lights to change; for the message on the computer screen to pass from ‘connecting’ to ‘connected’; for a fever to abate; for the music to reach a climax; for the wind to drop so you can fold a newspaper; for a child to grow up; for a response to a letter; for a blood test result, an outcome, or news; for one’s turn to bat; for someone to cheer up, admit they were wrong, or say they love you; for Spring, for Christmas, for Finals; for the end of a prison sentence; for The Second Coming (steady work, as Christopher Hitchens said); for a long-awaited heir; for fame or wealth or peace; for retirement; for the end.
Waiting reflects our helplessness, our inability to control the pace as well as the course of events. We may wait singly or collectively, privately or publicly.
And some waiting, far from being burdensome, may be actively cultivated. We enjoy the journey to our goal, and its million steps, for their own sake. As waiters, we are sometimes in conflict with ourselves, as when we listen to a story, aching to find out how things turn out, but not wanting anyone to spoil the ending. Don’t—do—keep me in suspense.
Our lives are absolutely riddled with many different modes of waiting. Even those things we have waited for—pastimes, events, successes, completions—are themselves shot through with waiting. A long anticipated game is filled with micro-waits embedded in its very substance. Enjoying music, we listen out for the next note, or that lovely motif that is gone as soon as it is complete. So many pleasures take the form of waiting for their end, perhaps so we can be on to the next thing. The habit of looking forward is hard to escape from.
The world is a waiting room. When all the waiting is over, so will be our lives.”
– “On Waiting,” by Raymond Tallis
Photos by Deanna C