Far Worse Things than Waiting (A Poem)

I used to be terrible at waiting. I sat impatiently sipping on cup after cup of coffee, looking up at the clock, biting my fingernails and wondering why it was taking so long. Negative thoughts entered my mind like a ticker tape parade, revving up my anger and turning ugly when the object of my inconvenience finally arrived.

Waiting equaled wasting time. I had things to do, I told myself, I can’t be sitting in this chair twiddling my thumbs while the clock keeps ticking. There were so many situations where I waited poorly that I’m frankly too ashamed to tell. In my irrational mind, I put my impatience on a pedestal. Relationships were secondary to my impatience.

I recall waiting for a job interview. It was twenty minutes past the appointment time when the interviewer called to say that he was stuck in traffic and that I could either wait or reschedule. Instead of handling the situation in a mature fashion, I enabled my angry thoughts to overwhelm my better judgment. My response was: “I’m not going to be disrespected. If this is any indication of how the job is going to be—You can have it!”

It was a selfish approach to waiting, alright. It was all about me. I didn’t have empathy for the interviewer’s predicament of being stuck in traffic or how disappointed and sorry he was for being late.

The list of times that I was impatient goes on and on: waiting for my wife in the shopping mall, waiting in a doctor’s office, waiting in line at a supermarket and, of course, being stuck in traffic.

Learning to Wait Gracefully

As I got older, I began to take better care of myself. I developed a yoga and meditation practice. I read a lot about Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies. I reduced my work schedule. I stopped being over-responsible for others and became more responsible for myself.

Waiting was a mindfulness skill that I sought to improve. Over the past few years, I developed a menu of skills that I could do while I wait instead of getting frustrated: breathing exercises, meditating, smiling, practicing mountain pose and striking up a friendly conversation with a stranger. There was a beauty in waiting. I just had to find it.

There are Far Worse Things

I wish I could wait for you

like the dog that waits for his owner.

I wish I could breathe deeply

like the yogi who sits cross-legged in Namaste.

I wish I could understand

that waiting doesn’t have to be so frustrating.

There are far worse things, I’m sure.

I wish I could wait like a patient house cat

who sits by the window and purrs.

I wish I could have his calmness,

his undeterred and unwavering attention.

I wish I could have a cat’s belief

that the wait will be fruitful and well received.

I wish I could have the patience

to smile when someone arrives late,

instead of pacing back and forth

and thinking of awful things to say.

I have to remind myself over again

that it is my choice to be here.

There are far worse things, I’m sure.

I wish I could be as mindful

as a Buddhist monk in a temple.

I wish I could wait with patience and grace

like a man happy to reap the benefits of good karma.

I wish I could remember that here is where I want to be,

peace of mind is my own choice.

If the doctor is running late,

If my wife is shopping at the mall,

If traffic is backed up and slow,

If I have a lot of time to kill,

l hope to remember this soothing mantra

and repeat it nice and slow:

There are far worse things, I’m sure.

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Mark Tulin

Mark Tulin is a retired Family Therapist who loves living in Santa Barbara, California. He spends most days writing short…

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