on waiting

Gouache on paper, 2002

My waterloo has always been patience.. I’ve always found it hard to believe in the “calculated jump” in actualizing a dream: what people call baby steps or weighing out options.. I find taking one’s time to be a great deterrent; it paralyzes. For me, when you jump, you jump. All out. Bahala na si batman.   And so far, this structureless, armalite approach has worked for me..

Last year, though, I learned something about patience..and restraint…and all their wonderful, painful offspring. A difficult lesson (we stubborn girls don’t learn otherwise), but maybe impactful in a way I am only beginning to understand..

What does it mean to wait? Cris told me years ago that women, by nature, wait. It’s what we do.  I refused the idea then, because waiting seemed so passive, reactionary, weak.  And what could be more truthful than acting on gut?

But there is a steady power to it… to waiting without going insane… to letting things unfold, to not thinking too much, to welcoming the silence and (seeming) inaction that come with the wait.

To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.”                                    – Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet

If you dissect that:

TO LET = we don’t initiate or preempt, we let. And we “let” not lazily, but in earnest, in slow and growing excitement
FEELING = includes the whole gamut: grief, anger, joy, love, fear
IN THE UNSAYABLE = We’re always trying to EXPRESS our feelings. I’m guilty of this. More effort should go into letting ourselves feel.
BEYOND UNDERSTANDING = Naturally we like to make sense of things…but there are things we won’t understand EVER. It’s not our place to know.  We’d be happier if we embraced this as fact, instead of resisting it…see it as a source of joy and eventual serenity…

Last year taught me that real waiting is not “doing nothing”. It is VERY effortful, to trust that everything will work out in the end.. and work out not necessarily as planned.. For to wait is to be gentle, and flexible, and that’s not as easy as it sounds.  In this day and age of instant everything, we’ve come to be more abrasive, more imposing on others.  We are excitable, and because everything is accessible, literally with the click of a button, we overdo, overindulge, we over-everything. There are just so many superlatives at our beck and call! But how empty these supers and extras are!

Last Christmas, a visiting friend who has spent the last 2 years by her lonesome in China, greeted me saying she was ready to go insane in Manila. All the malls, the people, the noise– she felt “overstimulated”!

That word came as a surprise to me, who’s used to welcoming every new stimulation with wide open arms..The even greater surprise was that I could relate to being overstimulated..

And so I admit, willingly, that I’m getting older.  And how lovely. 🙂 The mood, general sentiment, or even mindset now…it’s steady.  I’ve been praying for permanence for two years and well, I think I’m swimming in the deep blue permanence sea now…or wading in the shallow waters, but contemplating to go under and attempt a dive…

My old beef with waiting?  Most likely I just wasn’t ready to commit..to anything. For to wait is also to commit, to put yourself out there, fearless and unshakable in knowing that what you’re waiting for will come…

Fr.  James Donelan in “The Sacrament of Waiting” says that modern philosophies:

warn against attachments and commitment, against expecting anything of anybody, or allowing them to expect anything of us…
…[but] if we never learn to wait, we will never learn to love someone other than ourselves…

For most of all waiting means waiting for someone else
…we give each other that mysterious gift of waiting – of being present without making demands or asking rewards…
So lovers wait for each other – until they can see things the same way – or let each other freely see things in quite different ways.


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This was an email sent to friends on January 10,  2008.

Read the full text of  “The Sacrament of Waiting” by James F. Donelan, S.J.