It’s More Than a Waiting Game in a Surgical Family Lounge

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: “How much of human life is lost in waiting.”  At first glance, he seems to have a point.  We wait in grocery store and bank lines.  We wait in heavy traffic produced by road construction, an automobile accident, a freight train, or even an oblivious group of geese crossing a busy road.  We wait in long lines at amusement parks to ride a favorite ride or experience a popular attraction.  We wait at bus stops and airports.  We wait at sporting events.  We wait in offices – doctor’s, dentist’s, tax preparer’s, attorney’s, insurance agent’s, realtor’s, clergy members’.  We wait hours in line for the first showing of a new movie, even going as far as to bring a chair to sit on, sleeping bag to lie on, or tent in which to stay warm.  We wait for the announcement of the winning lottery numbers.  We wait for the phone to ring or to receive a text message from a child driving a couple of hours to a friend’s house.

Consider the following paradox: The same persons that normally hate waiting in traffic jams and in line at department stores will brave congested mall roads and wait for hours in the very early morning on Black Friday for the store doors to open to get the advertised best deals and choice pickings of limited “on sale” products.  What makes people who normally hate waiting choose to put themselves in heavy traffic and long lines of waiting?  Why might one situation be experienced as “frustrating” and “annoying” and the other be fully acceptable and freely chosen?

The reason, I believe, is connected to the purpose and meaning ascribed to the waiting.  Fact: human beings want purposeful living and meaning.  Therefore, choosing to wait with a valuable, purposeful, and meaningful end in mind makes all the difference.

Margery Allingham, English crime writer in the first half of the 1900’s, once wrote, “Waiting is one of the great arts.”  How right she is!  Waiting is an art precisely because it requires us to reinterpret our experience: the ability to link purpose and meaning to the moments in life that involve waiting.

You may have recently waited during the surgery of a family member, friend, co-worker, schoolmate, and other.  I suggest that your waiting was very different from other life moments that involve waiting because of its purpose and meaning:

  • ¨Your waiting may be a show of support and perhaps encouragement to your loved one.
  • ¨Your waiting may be your way of doing something tangible and practical during a time that may feel uncertain, nerve-wracking, or anxious-ridden.
  • ¨Your waiting may be helpful, useful, and valuable to the one having surgery and/or others that are waiting.

The art of waiting is in the interpretation.  What purpose, value and meaning does your waiting today have?  How does your waiting today positively differ from other life moments of waiting?  What makes your waiting a choice instead of an imposition?

Your waiting during your loved one’s surgery was/is not “life lost in waiting” as Emerson might suggest but rather “a great art” of making meaning and purpose that is valuable and meaningful to the one you love and to yourself.

Please share this perspective with those who wait in this way; their waiting is a gift given to others and any gift given to others is also a gift to oneself.


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