The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part
Last Wednesday was my late husband’s birthday. I woke up at 3AM fully alert, my body aware before my brain was cognizant of what day it was. It’s a strange feeling– feeling fine and like everything has moved on and settled into a place of calm and peace, and then the sudden reminder that you haven’t always been fine when those familiar tentacles of grief resurface and come looking for you.
It ended up being a fun day for me. Much thanks to the passing of time and all of the work I have done to accept the unexplainable horrors of a human existence. This was probably the “easiest” October since his passing.
But the next day, I felt a little conflicted.
It’s difficult to reconcile being sad about something, but still feel happy with life as it is right now, even if it isn’t what I envisioned for myself.
This got me thinking. I’ve been pondering the concept of waiting. It reminded me of the Tom Petty song, but it’s more than that. It’s about not being where you want to be and learning how to sit with that feeling. It’s about finding joy even during difficult times.
Maybe it has to do with being alone with yourself. How to be content with the present moment– with who you are right now– even when it is not necessarily your ideal version of yourself.
Mother Teresa said, “Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.”
I think this wisdom comes from the truth that no matter where you are in life– how much money, how many friends, how many material possessions– there will be something more you don’t have. Something more you could have. Something better. If you torture yourself between where you are right now to the point of where you want to be, you will have spent the majority of your life suffering instead of enjoying what you have.
When I was first widowed, the idea of life ever feeling good again didn’t seem real. It’s difficult to conceptualize happiness when you are living in a purgatory, drowning in the throes of the worst pain you’ve ever felt.
In hindsight, I wish I had more guidance in future projection. If I could go back and tell myself that opportunities rejuvenate, shift, twist, and morph into the nooks and crannies of life that is still waiting to be explored and excavated, maybe that could have eased the pain. If I had a looking mirror, I would have showed myself the new people and places and things I would be introduced to that would bring me joy. I would have poured all of the wisdom into my pain-stricken self during those early days of grief– all of that wisdom I clawed my way to learn about suffering being a normal cost of doing business as a human. I would have shown myself that suffering led me to the light and did not keep me in the darkness of my existence.
It’s the waiting that kills me the most. Waiting to figure out what to do with suffering. Waiting to meet that person. Waiting for an opportunity. Waiting for clarity. Waiting for the stars to align.
If you think about the number of highs and lows we have in our lives, in the grand scheme of our lives, they do not make up the majority of our days. I’m talking about those times of extreme pain, and the days of mind-blowing joy.
We spend the majority of our lives in “the waiting.” Waiting for the next meteor to hit. I live in California– waiting for the next earthquake. Or waiting to get our hands on a precious moment. Victory. Success. Love. Those times of great opportunity falling into our laps.
We are pain-averse; we constantly chase good feelings. If we can’t find it the honest way, we look for ways to expedite good feelings. Pick your poison.
It makes me think about the Mother Teresa quote. Be happy in the moment.
Just as you are. Even with the pain. Exactly as you are. No more, no less.
Mathematician Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
You have to sit in that room and not sugarcoat your reality. You have to be able to be alone and content even with your current circumstances. I think this requires that you accept life at face value.
Do you ever notice how young children accept life at face value?
They get in trouble, or they fall down and skin their knees. They get that piece of candy or they don’t get that piece of candy. They throw the fit. They move on.
Some kid hits them, maybe they cry, and the next minute they are playing together again.
Children know what it is like to be happy in the moment. They don’t care who their friends are. They can make friends with anyone. They don’t care what they have. They could live in a box. They don’t care how much money their parents have in the bank account, or where they live, they’ll love their parents anyway.
And then we grow older and we lose that ability to be content with what we have. We start reaching for more. We develop an insatiable appetite for more.
While the adults are having anxiety, feeling hopeless, lonely, and experiencing suffering waiting for their next high in life, the children play. They know how to keep moving forward. They don’t know what it is like to say yes to the weight of the world and carry it around on their shoulders. It is simply not an option for them.
Historically I have had the bad habit of torturing myself when I am waiting for something that I want. I let anxiety consume me. I want to speed up time. There are times when hopelessness, despair, and forlornness convince me that I’m not worthy of this thing that I want. It’s a gross rut to be in, and the work to dig yourself out of it feels like an endless loop of chasing your tail.
Recently I’ve been working on being more mindful about “the waiting.” I’ve been trying to find the silver-lining in situations. Every situation has the good and the bad, but it takes reflection and gratitude for me to be able to see both sides of the coin. Honestly, it takes a lot of work. I wish I were like a child with a mind that doesn’t get stuck in what I don’t have, but this is what I have to work with, and it takes effort to keep my constantly spinning brain from overwhelming the rest of myself. I have to pull the reins in on myself every hour. Every day. The rational side of me is constantly keeping my emotional side in check just like the movie Inside Out. I have to remind myself not to be too attached to expectations and outcomes. I am constantly trying to remember impermanence– nothing lasts forever.
But the thing is, I have gotten through the bad experiences 100% of the time. One of the biggest reminders I have to give myself is to simply do what I can in a day, then take a deep breath, step back, and let things fall as they may. I try again the next day. I know some people have a problem with avoidance, but I have a problem with excessive attention to every teeny tiny detail in a way that drives myself crazy interpreting what may or may not be happening. For me, I’ve been trying to do like the children do– play. More play. Doing things that I enjoy. Being very intentional about the things I like, and making sure they get priority in my schedule. This has been part of my reflection efforts.
Whoever you are, and whatever your problems, you can’t practice genuine reflection and gratitude unless you are comfortable being in the room by yourself– without the sound of other people talking, without your own self being consumed with loneliness. The solitude becomes your medicine. In that room, you create a space for personal understanding about yourself and who you truly are.
Every moment, each day, can not feel like the first bite of delectable meal. Whatever your extreme happiness feels like– that can not be experienced on a daily basis. It just can’t. We all know this, yet we chase after it like we can eliminate gravity.
Our monumental task as adults wanting to live as well as we can is to find joy and gratitude wherever we are, with whatever we have.
This doesn’t mean settling.
It means doing what we can and being content, even when we aren’t where we want to be yet. It means being satisfied with the waiting as being a part of our life journey, rather than it being suffering. It isn’t punishment. It is an opportunity.
We need to re-frame it.
If we can turn the waiting around into something meaningful instead of a place to be anxious and resentful about our circumstances, then we can maximize the human experience.
What does the waiting teach us?
For me: to appreciate what I have, to give me the gift of time with myself, to understand my priorities in life, to appreciate joy more deeply, to take pride in my independence, and to truly savor the opportunity to grow in who I am.