Can You Wait?

people in lineAround 5:30 the train platform is jammed. Everyone presses toward the doors of the arriving train as if there was a Guinness World Record we could set. A feeble announcement comes over the speaker – “there’s another train right behind us” – but no one backs out of the train car. We’d rather be crammed in like sardines than wait another 5 minutes. In a big city, it’s logical to expect that lines will be longer, venues popular, rush hour more clogged with volume. But have we always responded with such impatience? The instant the traffic light turns green, cars are honking, cabs nose into pedestrian crossings. Any delay is met with groans or anger. We’re all on our way somewhere, but it seems like only some of us can take waiting in stride.

We should be good at waiting because we do it all the time. We wait in line for everyday things: coffee, an elevator, the movies. Some lines we join on purpose – camping out for the next release of an iPhone, or concert tickets – and some waits are a certainty that we dread – being on hold, and the DMV.

Waiting can be unbearable without an explanation. Traffic is stopped and we can’t see the accident or road work that is causing it. I’m on time for my appointment, but the doctor comes 45 minutes later. When the waiting has order or structure, it’s easier to take. My deli counter ticket says 94 and the display says “Now Serving #76″ but it’s orderly and democratic.

I walk briskly, following an internal rhythm, watching my footing around puddles and curbs. Others on the sidewalk don’t share my pace as they are burdened with shopping bags, or have their head down in their phones. I’m zigging and zagging to get around them, and yet, we’re all stopped at the red light together.

If waiting is inevitable, let’s make the most of it. Catch up on celebrity news in the grocery check-out. Listen to a book while you commute. Watch what a toddler does in the airport. Count the variety of colored rain boots you see on a wet morning. When you can’t do anything else, you can always look around and notice.

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