November 9, 2012

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Learning how to play the waiting game in life

Cynthia DewesWhen I was a child, I learned early on never to complain to my mom that I had nothing to do. Believe me, she would find something for me real quick, something I hated, like dusting the furniture.

This old-fashioned idea that idle hands are the work of the devil and not to be tolerated carried through.

Multitasking became a way of life. To this day, I hate to waste time. If there’s no project or task to be done, I feel an urge to fill my time usefully, and I feel guilty if I don’t.

As I grow older, this compulsion is often employed during down times of waiting.

Waiting for the doctor at an appointment, waiting for salespeople to finish what they are doing so they can pay attention to me, waiting for my order to be taken. Waiting can indeed be frustrating, but now I’m finding it rather instructive and even moving at times.

Recently, on a trip to Germany, we found ourselves in a medical waiting room. As we sat there, I noticed a big, dark-haired and bearded man, obviously German, sitting across the room looking as bored as we felt. When they called for “Herr Schroeder,” he answered.

Later, as we commented aloud about a picture hanging on the wall, Herr Schroeder spoke up in excellent English to tell us that it depicted a seacoast in Denmark. He said he had been to that very scene, as well as to Alaska and Canada and Norway, where similar seascapes exist. He was retired, and had an RV in which he had traveled extensively.

As our conversation continued, he revealed that he was here for tests because he was losing his short-term memory. He also told us that his wife was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, and that he feared he was often impatient with her. We wished him luck as he went off with the nurse.

This poor man, who had apparently led such an interesting and productive life, seemed to feel so lonely and isolated by his present circumstances that he needed to confide in strangers in a public place.

On another occasion, we met a lady who was doing family genealogy research in the archives of St. Vitus Church in Meppen. She turned out to be an American who spoke no German, but who had spent the last three weeks here trying to find information. She was helpful, telling us of websites and other research possibilities that she had found. And we, in turn, helped her because our daughter could translate German for her.

This woman was a widow with grown children living far away. She sounded lonely, too, even though she had taken up a purpose in her genealogy studies. She was eager to do something meaningful, and eager to help others.

The thing about waiting is that what began as an alternative to trying to finish a book or eating junk food or shopping for things we don’t want or need turned into a real lesson in human nature. The intimacy of the anonymous site kicked in, and we were given the privilege of feeling another’s joy or pain or memory of a significant past.

We found that in waiting we had the time to actually listen to what was on other people’s minds and hearts.

And by listening, we could share, understand and support their feelings, thus enriching our own.

English poet John Milton, who said, “He also serves who only stands and waits,” sure knew what he was talking about.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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