Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Where I can enjoy waiting

(A guest post by Steve Schuler for this sixth day of Lent).

Home is where I can enjoy waiting.

Dial-up internet was a blessing in disguise. As a poor graduate student working at home, I found myself waiting in front of the computer screen for half a minute each time a page loaded. I wished the wait-time were either shorter or longer. If it were longer, I could at least read a couple pages of a book in the interim. But the wait time was just short enough to be annoying. One day I noticed that my wife had left her Irish tin whistle on the desk. So as I waited for a page to load, I picked it up and blew a couple notes. The instrument was simple enough, having just six holes to master. Soon I found myself sitting in front of the computer with the tin whistle and an old hymnal, playing one or two verses while I waited for each page to load.

That was the beginning of my realization that home is a place where I can enjoy waiting.

In my own house, if I am waiting for a telephone call or for a pot to boil, I can walk over to my workbench and sharpen a dull tool, or I can pick up a magazine and finish reading an article I had put aside. There’s no pressure to do such things. They are merely available to me whenever I have a few spare moments. While waiting for my children to get shoes or jackets on, I can pull a weed or two in the yard, or I can sit on the steps and admire the trees across the street.

In my office, when I am waiting to leave for the classroom or waiting to be picked up if my wife has the car, I can organize papers or browse through book reviews to see what I might like to order for the library. I can also brew a fresh cup of coffee, put my feet up on a chair, and and just think. At my parents’ house, which is not the house I grew up in, I can wait without pressure. I can always flip through one an old photo album, or in fine weather I can simply lie on my back in the grass and watch the sky.

My oldest daughter waiting in the yard.

In places I call home, I can wait without agitation or anxiety. That’s not to say I always do wait patiently at home, but patience is usually easier at home than it is elsewhere. At home, it is always possible to enjoy waiting.

Naturally, there are places in which waiting is sheer tedium—in the checkout line, in the mechanic’s waiting room, in the dentist’s chair. Such experiences can be endured, but not enjoyed. I may have brought a book to read or have found an interesting person with whom to chat, but these are diversions from the otherwise unpleasant experience of waiting away from home. There are also places where I do not (yet) feel at home, such as the homes of some relatives, or my church building. When I have to wait in these places, there is something of an aimless vacancy, a suspension of mental activity, that seems inevitable even if I have a means to occupy myself. Waiting in such places is not unpleasant, and I may even be relatively comfortable, but it is hard not to become agitated while waiting, though I am hard pressed to say exactly why.

Good things come of waiting at home. I have kept abreast of books being published in my field, my front yard has gotten weeded, most of my edge tools have remained sharp, and I eventually progressed from the tin whistle to the tenor recorder and have become competent enough to accompany my wife and father in recorder trios playing Handel and Bach.

Steve Schuler lives with his wife and children in southern Alabama, and he is an English professor at the University of Mobile. 


  1. What a great reminder, Steve! Not only to enjoy waiting, but also to be present of mind enough to make it productive for mind, body, or soul. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on home.

  2. I love this post! But I don't entirely agree with it. On one side, it challenges me to enjoy waiting at home and to make it productive, as Lindsay says, "for mind, body, or soul." That's an area I'd love to develop. On the other side, I disagree that waiting away from home is only endured and cannot be enjoyed. I make it a point to have a book with me when I know I'll be waiting for a considerable amount of time (doctor's appointments, the DMV, etc.). And in cases where waiting is unexpected or reading is inconvenient (checkout lines, traffic, etc.), I find a certain pleasure that comes from being in a place where I have to slow down, where my mind or my own observations are my only source of entertainment. It gives me a chance to people-watch or just to be still and think over my day.

    1. I'm glad you disagree, Michelle. I wasn't trying to say that it was impossible for anyone to enjoy waiting in such places, only that I currently find it impossible, myself. Perhaps one day I will learn to enjoy waiting anywhere. I hope one day I will.