Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What Shall We Do While We're Waiting?

Saturday afternoon found me in line for The Hunger Games. If you are from another planet I should tell you this is a movie, not some sort of club for anoerexics. Yes, I am one of those people who spend their spare time looking for the nearest cultural band wagon to hop aboard. So when my daughter and granddaughter insisted that I had to read the book I gave it a shot, then made plans to see the movie with them.

Heeding the instructions of a 7th grader who knows more about American Culture than I do at this point, we bought our tickets on-line two days ahead of time and arrived at the theatre an hour early because we knew there would be a line to get a good seat.

I’m somewhat of a connoisseur of lines. As an affirmed extrovert, I’m never one to complain about being surrounded by people thrown together by chance. I embrace the line. I revel in the chance to be enfolded by humanity, to rub elbows with total strangers. To have them inoculate me against unknown diseases by inviting their cooties jump aboard my body.

Hunger Games provided a decent line. It was long enough to make us grateful that we had come early; long enough that we felt part of the great American Experience. Standing in line reassures you that you weren’t the only one to think of this movie or this restaurant or this cause. It’s like being voted into the popular crowd.

Who doesn’t love a good line?

Beaven Els, for one, doesn’t love a good line. He claims he promised himself when he was in the Air Force that he would never again stand in line for anything once he got out. But about the only thing this accomplished was to give him something to talk about while our family stood in line every Friday night for our favorite restaurant.

On the morning of September 11, 2001 when the planes hit and the Pentagon was aflame Elizabeth was living in Virginia. Her boss sent everyone home for the rest of the day. She went straight home to change clothes then drove to the nearest blood facility to get in line to donate blood. She was like a lot of people who saw a huge need and carried a great resource within their bodies.

She still wasn’t expecting the line she found. Not only was it out the door but it snaked around inside the building. She ended up spending seven hours in that line. Usually when you donate blood the phlebotomists thank you sincerely for your gift. This time, she said, donors were thanking them for taking their blood. She watched as the four technicians methodically moved people in and out without taking a break for meals or rest. They were there when she arrived and there when she left. Eventually they stopped taking new donors but there was still a line when she left at 8 o’clock that night.

She was surrounded by like-minded people who had found a cause bigger than themselves.

Most of her fellow donors were college kids. They were from the University of Virginia right there in town but she was surprised to find that about half of them were from Virginia Tech--a four-hour drive from Charlottesville.

I have to stop here to explain that Elizabeth is an introvert where I am the world’s biggest extrovert. She waited quietly where I would have left that day with at least four phone numbers and email addresses. I might have even formed a club and ordered t-shirts for all of us.

There are many different ways to wait in line.

Elizabeth spent a little time talking to the people around her but mostly watching the TV the blood center has set up inside the building—once your line had advanced a couple of hours to reach inside. She told me it was a lot like sitting in your own living room watching TV with your family and talking about what they saw to the others. She watched as people touched base with their families to assure them they were OK and to check on friends in DC or New York. This was the kind of tragedy that makes everyone want to take attendance to make sure everyone they know is safe. Everyone wanted to talk to their families.

I stood in another sort of line with Elizabeth a few years later. I wrote about that experience in the blog already. We drove from Dallas to Austin to attend the funeral for Ann Richards. A little bit like donating blood, driving to Austin in the rain was something big for something we considered to be a good cause. We arranged to meet a couple of old friends so we spent our time talking to them but we also met new friends. We found ourselves stganding next to a dignified black guy wearing a hat typical of the Texas Rangers although he claimed to be just another ordinary fan of Ann's. I wished that I could have spent more time talking to him and getting to know him.

So, here is the question: What do we do while we’re waiting?

Because we are all waiting for something. A promotion, a raise, a baby, a graduation. The weekend. To see our kids grow up.

There are a lot of different ways of waiting. What you do while you’re waiting is up to you. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. It’s as individual as your own personality.

Our family is taking a huge vacation together at the end of June. And we’ve been counting the days until we leave. We made a paper chain of loops for each day. Back in December when we made it the chain encircled the office in Elizabeth’s house. Now it only takes up two walls. I think the other day we reached the 100 day mark.

Sarah and Essie have even set up a spreadsheet counting down the days until a variety of events: the vacation, when school is out, their birthdays, the next youth retreat. Every time something exciting comes up they can start counting the days until it happens.

We are all waiting for something.

Karla Koll, one of the missionary friends I have in Guatemala, is going through treatment for breast cancer. Her time lately has been spent waiting for one treatment or the other. For a while she was waiting for surgery, then to finish tests so she could go home to Guatemala and her husband. Now she is waiting for chemo therapy to start in Quetzaltenango. Then she will wait for radiation back here in the states. And again she will count down the days until she can go back home to her family and wait for something good like a new semester at the school where she teaches. She waits for something to be comfortingly normal again. While she is waiting, she writes to those of us who pray for her because she knows we will worry if we don’t hear from her.

We are all waiting for something. How we spend the time is up to us.

Here’s what Mister Rogers said about it:

Let’s think of something to do while we're waiting
While we're waiting for something new to do.
Let's try to think up a song while we're waiting
That's liberating and will be true to you.

Let's think of something to do while we're waiting
While we're waiting 'til something's through.
You know it's really all right;
In fact, it's downright quite bright
To think of something to do
That's specific for you.
Let's think of something to do while we're waiting

Copyright 1982 Fred Rogers

We are all waiting for something. How we do it is up to us.

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