I never really knew what waiting meant until my baby was two weeks overdue. I baked. I read. I walked. I stocked up on diapers and sleepers. Also, my kitchen has never been cleaner. I was attuned to every little twinge – was that labour starting? Finally, our little bundle of joy (well, big bundle – over 9 lbs.) arrived. Every minute of that 9.5-month wait was worth it to finally see his dear face and hold him tight.
Last year involved a different kind of wait. Not the kind you look forward to. My beloved 91-year-old dad was gradually letting go of life, mostly gently. Every morning when I woke up, I wondered if this would be the day. I tried to make each day count – remembering, offering support, praying, being present. One evening, when I stepped outside his room for a minute to answer the phone, he let go for good.
And then came COVID. We have all experienced a whole new level of waiting: for information, for guidance, for test results, for updates on numbers of cases, for schools and businesses to reopen, for a vaccine. But especially for hope. Seeing fear, anxiety, exhaustion and despair on such a massive scale has been beyond sobering. Witnessing the generosity of so many – from tireless medical staff and personal support workers to Italians singing from their balconies to teens delivering groceries to homebound seniors – has been inspiring. Still, the waiting continues.
Now here we are in Advent. More waiting! After all these years, I’m still trying to get the hang of it. In our culture, waiting is annoying. It’s standing in lineups, watching for the bus, sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, being on hold for customer service. When I wait passively for things to happen, it’s unsatisfying. I become impatient or discouraged. If I try to force things, it usually ends in failure.
What birth and death and COVID teach me is that the big things are outside our control. That can be frightening or even paralyzing. But it doesn’t have to be. If I can embrace the waiting, if I can be an active participant in it and not just a restless observer, that changes everything. Jesus says, “Keep awake!” These two words can help to ground us in the moment so we stay present, watchful – waiting with our eyes and hearts wide open.
Anne Louise Mahoney, Managing Editor, Novalis