Throughout my life, I have often stood in lines.
One of the more memorable times was when I was in a community musical in high school. The cast was waiting for the costume director to check everyone over before the show started. Everyone was complaining. No one understood why they couldn’t just get back to more important things and report to the costume director when it was their turn.
“Why are we just standing in line?” the man in front of me asked, exasperatedly. I found myself answering without even thinking, “We’re practicing waiting.” He turned around and looked at me incredulously before snapping, “Why would we need to practice that?”
Most of life involves waiting — in lines, for opportunities, for our lives to metaphorically start — and we’re all terrible at it. We are so impatient to keep moving forward, thinking that any time spent not pursuing the future is time we are wasting. But just because we are not moving forward does not mean we’re falling behind.
Midway through my sophomore year of college, I started having an intense desire to run. I would be walking home from class and start to turn in the opposite direction, feeling my legs tighten in preparation to sprint, the books in my backpack the only things grounding me. I felt like I was trapped, taking useless classes and settling for a boring future. I’d been in the education system for 15 years. The last two years and two months before college graduation and the promise of freedom to explore other paths seemed unbearable. I was waiting for my life to start, and I didn’t want to wait anymore.
Luckily, before I got shin splints, I came to an important realization: my life will “start” when I stop passively waiting for it to start.
Any path I want to explore in two years I can start looking into now on a smaller scale. Experiences I have in college can unexpectedly help me live life down the road. I need to investigate what’s out there and what’s within me. I need to wait, but I need to wait right.
In the Jewish spiritual practice known as mussar, focused on cultivating inner virtues in order to live a more meaningful and ethical life, salvanut, the value of patience, is a key character trait. Rabbi Menachem Mendel explains how salvanut instructs that “when something bad happens to you and you did not have the power to avoid it, do not aggravate the situation even more through wasted grief.”
When we view the inability to be traditionally productive in every moment as “something bad,” then stressing and grumbling during time spent waiting for productivity to resume is surely “wasted grief.” To truly be patient, we must observe when we are not in control of our situations, of the greater world, and be humbled by it. We must feel our hearts beating through time and reflect on our present successes. We must stand in line and not complain, but breathe into moments of calm and quiet before everything gets chaotic around us and we’re jumping from project to project so fast that we don’t get the chance to wait for anything.
We must take this “something bad” and change “wasted grief” into productive introspection.
Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, we are all waiting, collectively. Waiting for our country to reopen, waiting for things to go “back to normal,” waiting for our fear and anxiety to thaw and drip away in the summer’s heat. We have more time now than ever before, and we’re realizing how impatient we truly are.
So instead of passively waiting for quarantine to end and feeling every lost second tick away, I’m going to tune into my thoughts and feelings, be the calm in all this chaos and understand that there is self-growth to be gained from this experience. Waiting is only terrible because we’re doing it wrong.
I know many of my peers are worried about not returning to campus in the fall, or returning only to be sent home again with the inevitable second wave of the virus, but I don’t feel too upset by the prospect. It’ll be a longer wait, but I can handle waiting. I’ve practiced it.