I’m driving to the Department of Motor Vehicles, and I realize this is the last thing I want to be doing. But when you live in Central Pennsylvania, at least you can look out the window into the wilderness while doing things you don’t want to be doing.
I look out the window and briefly consider running off into the wilderness just to see what sort of adventure I might find (anything to avoid the driver’s license photo).
What’s out there, anyway? What would happen if I walked deep into these woods and climbed up that mountain? What if my family just built a little cabin right here? What kind of woman might I be out there?
I like thinking about it. I like that this line I’m waiting in gives me time to consider a new idea. Maybe all adventures begin in the mind while you’re doing the thing you don’t want to be doing.
Thank God for long lines in the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Journal: What do you think about when you’re doing things you don’t want to do?
This morning, a boy turns to me and asks, “Can you give me any tips on how to wait for something?”
I’m stumped. I’m floored. I’m overcome with how sweet (but so important) this question is and how many years of his life he’ll be waiting for something. Here he is–just a boy–already waiting and needing to know how to survive the wait.
I’m overcome with how much of life is about waiting. I think every person I know has something they are waiting for. My own waiting–for the dreams of my children, for the plans I’ve made with my husband, for my own novelist longings–are equal parts delight and despair. Waiting is the not yet. It’s a yes and a no at the same time. It’s the impossible focus on two dimensions: hope and the reality of now.
It’s the grand universal Maybe.
I tell the little boy (he’s not so little now–we’re on our 4th year of walking to school together) that all I can offer is this: Focus on the great things right in front of you today. But then I correct myself. I remember the beauty of longing, the joy of waiting because something is coming. I run up beside him and tell him that it’s a great thing to wait. It’s the best thing in the world.
Something is coming. It’s just around the corner. Living with flair means we delight in the Maybe.
Journal: What would you have said to this boy?
My little one’s molar has been hurting her for months. She’s already had a root canal (we definitely needed to invoke the Bad Day Mantra on that day), and still, the tooth pain won’t relent. Yesterday, the dentist prescribed an antibiotic to ward off infection.
“But we can’t pull that tooth,” he explains in his office. My daughter listens, wide-eyed. “That tooth is a space-maker, a place-holder. If you pull it, every other incoming tooth will crowd toward that space, and her mouth will really be in trouble. Nothing new will come in right. I’d like to keep that tooth there for as long as we can.”
I nod. The little one nods.
“It’s about timing,” he says. “I can pull it, but then we’d have to design a spacer for her mouth, and it won’t ever be as great as what God made naturally.”
I smile. He’s talking Dentist Theology now. He tells me it’s often normal for molars to ache while the new teeth underneath emerge. Just wait. A good thing is happening.
The sore molar as a “place holder” to keep everything in line, to make things work as they should, stayed with me the whole day and into the night. That troubling sore point in my life–whatever it is–might just be the place holder to keep things right until the new thing comes. Could I begin to see those dark years as space-makers and place-holders that ushered in present joy in the right space, at the right time?
The ache keeps things aligned. It makes a space I need.
Our acorn stockpile wasn’t such a great idea after all. A few days ago, I learned that acorns contain bitter tannins that interfere with a squirrel’s ability to metabolize protein. That’s why they bury them!
Burying acorns and letting them sit underground allows moisture to percolate through them to “leach out” the tannins.
Our stockpile circumvented this process. We’ll have to bury them or let them sit in groundwater for days.
How could I not think of ways I seek short-cuts, of ways I stockpile and fret, when all along, I’m preventing a much needed process? When my plans rest dormant underground, might I see them as percolating in the moisture needed to make them nourishing and not destructive?
God is leaching out the bitter thing–the thing that might harm me.
Squirrels surrender to the process. They don’t resist the truth of their circumstances. They gather, bury, and then feast only after that secret underground process completes. Might living with flair mean we watch the squirrels and understand something about our own journey with God?
I can’t circumvent what needs to happen.
I’ve been watching a chrysalis in my garden for a week now, and today a gorgeous butterfly emerged. She’s finally here!
She’s a female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.
She waits for the right time. If it’s too cold, too windy, or too wet, she knows. She’ll proceed another day, another month, when conditions are perfect.
Today’s her day! So why in the world is she just sitting there?
I read that after she comes forth from the chrysalis (a great word: from the Latin chyrsallid and Greek chrysos meaning “gold”) she pumps her wings full of blood, and then she’s required to sit very still and let her wings dry. They have to harden in order to support her in flight.
This could take three hours.
How hard must this be for her to wait, very still, when she was made to fly, when she’s been waiting for this her whole life?
As she waits, she’s extremely vulnerable to many predators (birds, spiders, ants, wasps, snakes). She’s delicious and vibrant and without any defense.
I think about her all morning. My youngest daughter and I creep around the garden barefoot, dew soaking even our legs. We approach her, and she doesn’t move. She can’t. She’s not ready, not even a little bit.
How could I not think of those of us waiting for things–letting our wings harden–in that fragile and dangerous time (dangerous because of the lies that assault us) when something’s just about to happen but we aren’t quite ready? We have to stay still and obey the process. We can’t rush. Our whole flight depends upon it.
My oldest daughter has a horrible ear infection that’s so bad that the doctor actually looks inside her ear and says, “This is just a mess.” We’ve already had two ear tube surgeries and countless rounds of antibiotics for infections.
What’s so hard is the sheer pain of it. The doctor asks where my daughter was on the 1-10 pain scale, and she bravely reports, “An 8, except sometimes (meaning when she’s asleep).”
We are driving away from the pharmacy with two different medications for her (and also the ear drops for after swimming now that the tubes fell out). She can’t swim all week, and she’ll have ear drops and oral antibiotics. It’s all a waiting game for the ear to heal. She’s counting the days until the pain recedes and until she can swim again.
Out of the blue, she calls out from the back seat: “Mom, did you know if the earth went any faster around the sun, we wouldn’t get to have so many days? The year would be shorter. That wouldn’t be good. We’d miss stuff.”
She’s applying astrophysics to the time it will take for her ear to heal. In her mind, she concludes that speeding things up actually results in loss for her. Just this morning, I read about time and patience. I have trouble waiting, even for a day, for things I hope for.
Do I really want to rush the cosmic process? Whatever the speed of change in my life, it seems wise to fully live out the day and not wish so much for it all to be over–even if it’s uncomfortable. Wishing for tomorrow means I have one less day.
Even in pain, she doesn’t want to wish away the day because of what she’ll lose. It’s ear infection flair!
(photo courtesy of Bruce Sterling )