Patience is the hardest virtue to acquire. Well, the hardest when you’ve long since given up attaining Temperance. Irish Catholic you see, just not in my genes.
So many things in life force us to wait, wait and… wait. Even as I write the word it’s an odd collection of letters... uninviting, blunt, unforgiving… like the teacher who takes you outside the Principal’s Office and says “now wait there”. I did a lot of that kind of waiting in my teens and it never ended well.
I used to hate waiting outside the music rooms for my piano lesson too, when I had a Nun who used to crack me over the knuckles for what she thought were unreasonable mistakes. Thankfully most of my piano teachers were encouraging, so my love of the instrument continues, but on exam day – when you’d worked so hard and SO wanted to play well so you could take home to Mum and Dad an A+ result – I was always a bundle of nerves. “Say the Memorare and remember I love you” Dad used to say to me, as pre-exam psychology, and to this day whenever I’m waiting to do something important or receive a result I go through the same ritual. It helps. I was very lucky to have such a Dad.
Waiting for the bus is sometimes annoying. Waiting for the toilet at a pub after too many beers is particularly inconvenient. And waiting for the guy you’re keen on to phone or declare his intentions is downright torture – in a bitter-sweet kind of way.
Of course I’ve long since discovered blokes hardly ever do what you want them to do when you want them to do it. No, they have their own hard-to-comprehend timetable, and one has to learn to work with it; especially if you’re living in
where the tendency is hugely magnified. Italy
Other things we wait for are equally frustrating: an overdue period for instance… where the associated “yikes” can range from “o oh”, “damn”, “could this be lucky?”, to “what the hell is your problem” and “of course I’m crying” as the woman is overtaken by a swell of demon emotions and distorted proportions. Thankfully this is temporary, but the wait is still uncomfortable.
We’ve all had our share of “the cheque’s in the mail”. Only recently I had to go a few rounds of indignant argument with an agency who hadn’t correctly paid me. Eventually, no doubt to shut me up, they looked into the matter and I’m told I only have to wait until this Thursday to have the missing funds reimbursed. But still there’s the wait.
Some of us wait nervously for our creative efforts in the kitchen to come out of the oven, never quite sure if it will be edible. Others wait on the sidelines to get onto the field for an important match, or queue at the theatre for a return-ticket to a popular show. To be honest I don’t mind the latter, as it somehow increases the enjoyment when you finally get into your seat. The same can be said of foreplay of course… delicious. Or waiting for summer rains to fall and wash away the grime of the day, for in cities like Sydney in less than an hour the sun returns and the city is washed clean leaving smells which are divine. I used to love that about
too, though it happened less often so the waiting would build to fever
I don’t mind waiting to find out how things operate in Heaven (I refuse to contemplate the other option, being a post-Vatican II child)… though I wouldn’t mind it if someone could get a clear message back. It’s nice to look forward to a holiday, a party or a wedding, for there’s joy to be had in positive expectation. And waiting for a small child to say his or her first words or take their first steps is a wildly joyous occasion.
So, yes, some waiting is essential, even desirable. But that doesn’t make it easy.
I recall disliking the waiting I had to do after making an offer to buy a house, the waiting to discover if I’m going to be short-listed or ‘called back’ after an acting or singing audition, and the horrid waiting involved in any legal dispute or court case is terribly disconcerting; not to mention expensive. I guess a Groom finds it hard to wait for his Bride to appear at the church, if she’s unfashionably late. Watching the Stock Market must be hazardous to one's well-being at times (though I myself don't dabble). And Penalty Shoot Outs in football is a mercilessly dreadful wait.
Of all the waiting we do, however, I suppose two kinds are most significant. Waiting for death. And waiting for birth. The cycle of life.
If my experience of the former is anything to go by (and I don’t include here sudden loss or accidents as they make for a completely different set of difficulties), then this wait is a slow grinding down of one’s energy and spirit… an immensely challenging and tiring prelude to something you desperately don’t want to face but slowly realize you must. There is a chance to say goodbye, which is valuable. There is a chance to make peace if there have been things in your shared life left unresolved. There is even a chance to laugh and reminisce which is priceless. But it is extremely poignant and deeply sad to have to watch and nurse someone you love and wait and wait for the unspecified moment when you must let them go. It changes you, permanently.
The flipside is the ‘pregnant pause’, the wait before the baby arrives. Of course there’s the nine months of gestation (about which I can only say Thank God we aren’t elephants). But it’s the final weeks, days and hours of waiting which really test a pregnant woman and her spouse. She is blown up like a Telly Tubby. She has pregnancy-induced problems with number twos so she feels like a blimp. She may be nauseous or suffering from pressure headaches. She can’t get comfortable in bed so she doesn’t sleep well. She’s naturally nervous. Everyone wants to know when it’s going to happen and she wants to shout “if only I bloody knew”. And if it’s her first, she knows she really doesn’t know what to expect of herself, or the experience, despite how painstakingly she has tried to prepare for this most primal of events. So as the clock ticks on, towards and then passed the due-date, one day more, one day more, she does everything she can to distract herself. She takes walks in the park. She watches multiple TV Series on DVD, her husband by her side ready to switch into Birthing Partner mode at the sign of the first full contraction. She checks and rechecks her hospital bag. She takes long baths but over time the candles and soothing music are getting more irritating than soothing. And still the clock ticks on and on and she’s left waiting. Why hasn’t the Indian curry worked? The encouraging bouts of sex? Or application of other ‘old wives tales’? The damn kid is still in there clearly quite happy with his/her snug situation and reluctant to come out.
Timmy or Tammy, so named by my friends for pre-birth purposes, seems to have no comprehension of the fact that both his/her parents are Project Managers who are used to delivering projects on time and on budget. They’ve drafted a Communications Strategy and a Schedule, there are Quality Assurance matters and Stakeholders to keep happy (many of whom are in
trying to bridge the time gap as
well as the geography) and Timmy or Tammy is simply not playing ball. New
Then FINALLY it’s Game On: the waters break and the real contractions kick in. Off to the hospital for a check-up. Ok, all fine, go home. More contractions. More waiting. Waiting and waiting to dilate. Back to the hospital. Another check: for surely she must have made sufficient progress to be admitted now? But no, the advice is to return home. On and on (they don’t call it labour for nothing)… more waiting, more effort, more waiting, more effort… vomiting and exhaustion has long ago set in. My friend is shaking from dehydration and strain, when finally close to twenty-four hours after the waters have broken prematurely, the little trouper is finally taken into the labour ward and pronounced four centimetres dilated.
The wait isn’t over though. There’s still a long way to go and decisions to be made about how to best look after mother and baby for the ultra-marathon which is continuing… unrelenting effort, unrelenting waiting….
…until at 7.31am on the second morning of a long and challenging labour, the prize arrives: a beautiful baby girl… little Charlotte… little Lotte… as her mum would like to call her… another little miracle… perfectly soft, perfectly formed, perfectly loved, protected and adored… by her relieved, exhausted and exhilarated parents, and a host of loving family and friends who don’t have to wait and worry any more.
Well, for a little while anyway…