Passengers waiting at Charles de Gaulle Airport, June 2008

Passengers waiting at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, June 2008

“Waiting is one of the great arts.”Margery Allingham

It’s fitting that this quote came from an author of detective stories, because the seemingly glamorous life of a private eye requires a great deal of tedious waiting.

For Jeff and me, it seems as if the past year has held well more than its share of waiting.  Countless hours, days and weeks we spent in hospitals and clinics involved mostly waiting.  Waiting to be called into the examination room, waiting for consults with other doctors, waiting for IV drips to finish, waiting as overbooked schedules were adjusted to allow another appointment.

We also waited in other locations, too: in the traffic between Bethesda and northern Virginia, for phone calls to physicians to be returned, for test results to be reported, for prescriptions to be ready for pickup at the pharmacy.

And of course, we waited for a grandson who, like his father before him, took his time arriving into our world!

I came across Allingham’s quote months ago, and I had to give it a bit of thought to understand what she meant.  I had never considered waiting to be an art; rather, it was a nuisance, a necessary evil of these rushed and impatient times.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that waiting is indeed an art in many respects.  It requires stillness coupled with action, the discipline of knowing when to be passive and when to move.  It’s not the same thing as procrastination; indeed, in some ways it’s the opposite.  Often, we have to wait because are on the receiving end of someone else’s procrastination, or their overly busy schedule.

As with any other art, there are skills that can be practiced to make waiting more bearable.  We can learn what activities we can accomplish while waiting, and note which habits of mind tend to lead us away from our agitation rather than increase it.  We can develop a literal or symbolic “tool kit” to redeem these potentially wasted hours, and put them to good use.

Are you good at waiting?  If so, share your secrets with us!  If not, try to brainstorm with us about ways to appreciate and utilize this unavoidable aspect of life.  I’ll be waiting to hear from you!  🙂


  1. A perennial favorite is Isaiah 40:31

    • Yes, as you may know, that’s a favorite with Carla. One of Jeff’s dental assistants who worked with him for several years in CA stitched and framed a beautiful picture of that verse, with an eagle on it, and gave it to him when he first pinned on his “birds” over 10 years ago, in June 2003. You can see a photo of it here.

  2. merry

    hummm….waiting is easier when I have a book/magazine in hand. Good morning Julia. Hope you have a blessed day.

    • Thank you, Merry! Yes, I never travel anywhere without more reading material than I need. I even carry a Reader’s Digest in my purse :-).

  3. Carolyn

    I know what you are talking about, I’m not good at waiting, but last year a change had to come. Those IVdrips take can make a long day for you. My first day in chemo was a 7 hour day and knowing that I had 4 more days of the same, I said no I can’t do this, but I did. Each day got a little better. I know that Jeff has been there. I pray that Jeff has good days and the waiting will not be hard on him. Keep the faith. I have lots to do today ,so I better get busy. Love to all.

    • Carolyn, you have described exactly how we get through such things: one day at a time. Whenever Jeff says “I don’t know how much longer I can do this,” I promise him that I will honor whatever he decides, if he will promise me only to face each day as it comes and not to cross any bridges until he comes to them. It did get somewhat easier for Jeff when he was able to establish a routine and knew what to expect. Hope you have a pleasant and productive day today! Thanks for making time to be here.

  4. Lani (Morgan) Beagle

    Julia, I don’t imagine that anyone is ‘good’ at waiting all the time, however, I think that is just another of the values taught by New Age philosophers that was initiated by David in the Psalms and is possibly even more necessary today. Learning to wait and let God work, as suggested with “be still and know”, “wait in the presence of the Lord”, and so many other admonitions of believing, trusting, and waiting is imperative to have an abundant life. We still have issues as a people with taking control and believing in our self rather than in God and His power. Refocusing and centering ourselves on living in the moment, experiencing the day and trusting in God reduces the impact of stress and increases daily contentment.

    • Lani, that really is the “secret” to survival and eventually, serenity. I have become much more proactive about stopping my negative thoughts before they take root and become obsessive worry. We need to keep reminding ourselves that God can always be trusted to do the right thing in any situation, even if that situation was not of his will or making; he still has ultimate control. Thanks for being here! I do hope we can get together soon. Do you come back to Atlanta very often?

      • Lani (Morgan) Beagle

        Once a month actually, since my dad died. Mary has difficulty with mundane tasks so that is how I help – I’m pretty good with mindless and mundane! I saw that you were there on one of your recent entries and thought it would be wonderful to see you too!! Maybe that will work out sometime?

        • Lani, I will definitely let you know the next time(s) I come to ATL. Until Jeff got sick I was usually able to get there at least 2-3 times a year since we moved to the east coast. So nice not to have to spend an entire day in travel; lots of nonstop flights make it much easier.

  5. Lynn Hayner

    when my girls were younger, I sometimes thought a wait time was a gift — they had to sit with me (and usually would visit given this was before iphones so they were bored) if we were waiting in an airport or doc office etc. This weekend I did a lot of waiting in a hospital (sports injury) and realized that waiting alone is not nearly as pleasant (!) as waiting with a family member. But this quote for the day made me really think ….perhaps a wait, even alone, is an opportunity to quiet my thoughts, pace, and to-do list…..

    • Lynn, it has helped me a great deal to think of waiting as an opportunity for something else. As you mention, during the long hours of waiting with Jeff, I tried to remind myself how grateful I was just to have time to be with him, regardless of the circumstances. I’ve learned to regard occasional insomnia in the same way; when I can’t get back to sleep, I ask “OK Lord, what is it you want me to do with this time?” 🙂 I’ve had so many problems in the past with refractory insomnia that I’ve learned to be very careful about letting it go on too long, but once in awhile, waking too early is definitely a gift.

  6. Carlyle

    I am reminded of a quote heard many years ago: ” War is mostly waiting” (author unknown)

    • Daddy, I imagine that’s very true. I can remember reading stories about the psychological torture of trench warfare, and the long hours spent in hyper-vigilant “watch” mode. I guess in war, as in everything else, impatience creates many tragedies.

  7. As a rule, I do not like waiting, especially if someone else has been procrastinating.I do not like to be late. But taking my wife to all her doctor visits and her first chemo treatment, I just try to relax, read a magazine we do not get at home, and pray. And try not to look at the time because that will make you anxious.

    • You sound very much like a man I know quite well :-). I think all these hours of waiting have helped both of us to be a bit less frustrated by things that don’t ultimately matter as much as they seem to at the moment. You are totally right about not looking at the clock. That’s one of the first things I had to learn when I was dealing with insomnia; it can feed on itself when we get frustrated about how little sleep we are going to get. Thanks for visiting here, and for your comment!

  8. Nope, not good at it, LOL. Yesterday, while attending a cultural event with my Aunt I waited in line for 10 minutes to buy tickets for lunch, then waiting in line for 40 minutes to get a plate of lunch. The whole time it was 29 C outside which is crazy hot for us. I was grateful I left my Aunt in the shade as she might have perished. In the end, everyone was starving, cranky and sweating. What I thought about the whole time is how they could do it better next year. I’m sure organizers will get lots of creative feedback 😉

    On the other hand, I read a book called Boom, Bust, Ecco some time ago. It talks about demographics and how they shape society. Apparently, there were more babies born in 1961 than any other year in the last century. So, we are rather used to line ups and waiting or competing for jobs and teams. I can’t say this makes me ‘more’ patient. Just more used to waiting.

    • I must admit, I do go out of my way to avoid waiting for anything I have to pay for. I’ve never understood paying $15-20 dollars per hour (based on the daily ticket price) to stand in lines at Disney World; accordingly, we NEVER go at crowded times. Jeff and I even avoid restaurants at the peak crowd times, not just to avoid waiting, but also to have more quiet. Good thing we’re getting too old to stay out late at night! I haven’t heard of that book, but it sounds interesting. I read a similar book recently (I don’t remember the title) that spelled out why there will NEVER be enough roads to support all the cars enough to avoid traffic. By the time the roads get widened or re-built, there’s an increase in the number and size of vehicles that pretty much wipes out any improvement. I guess we’d better learn to walk, bike, take the bus/subway, and/or WAIT patiently!

  9. Sheila

    Julia, indeed we wait for many things in life. I always remember time spent in a cancer center waiting room (appropriately named) and the comments overheard were so varied. I would always look and listen and SMILE. God had put us all in that room for a reason, so the best thing to do was appreciate those around us and know that HE was there. I met some lovely people there.I’ll always remember the “butter dish story”. A beautiful lady whose husband had stage IV cancer, suggested to him the night before that he should be using margarine instead of butter and he threw the butter dish across the dining room. I’m sure margarine versus butter seemed irrelevant to him. Life has lots of stories and waiting rooms have many, if we listen. Love, Sheila

    • Sheila, I love that story! Especially since it turns out that margarine is worse for us than butter (I doubted my mom when she started telling me that years ago, but she turned out to be right). I’m headed to the doctor today so I will remember your story about the waiting room; I tend to be among those that HATE to wait in medical settings. I know what you mean about seeing all the stories, though. I used to feel the same way about airline gates when I worked as a gate agent for USAir in Memphis. I always thought we saw the entire cross-section of life there; grief, joy, anticipation, exhaustion, kindness, cruelty, patience, arrogance. In the days before they restricted people coming to the gates, you would see many hellos and goodbyes there, lots of emotion. And the children who came and went to St. Jude’s (easy to tell who they were, because they had no hair) were a constant reminder that life can be hard and brief. I’ll let you know if I see any good stories today!

  10. Larry

    I have learned waiting opens an opportunity at times to share with others. Yes, sitting in a cancer waiting room is difficult. But, when sitting there listening to others as they talked I could silently thank God that our situation wasn’t as grim as the news others had heard. The genuine applause that could be heard coming down the hall and a bell rung that signified someone had finished their last treatment. The spark that could be seen in the eyes of others as they watched as someone had a great accomplishment in their battle with a monster called “Cancer”. Waiting isn’t only in the waiting room. The distant miles as a loved one endures treatment, surgery, more treatment, more doctor visits. The hours that turn into days just sitting there wondering, contemplating what might be going on. Sometimes the biggest monster of all is the next day, the next week, the next month unsure what each holds and just waiting to see what the news will be, That monster of “Uncertainty” is what tries our soul and we have to call on our faith to wait.

    • Larry, thanks for your comments that evoke so many hospital experiences. It’s funny; in an earlier comment on today’s post about “jump in the lake,” Sheila mentioned the song “Hit the Road, Jack” and after I read your comment here I remembered: that song is what the staff in the chemo room at Walter Reed would sing to a patient who was finishing up his or her last scheduled treatment. In that context, “Don’t you come back no more!” was transformed into a benevolent wish for a happy outcome; a chasing away of the uncertainty in faith that a happy ending will lie ahead. I will always believe that no matter the outcome, waiting in hope is far better than surrounding oneself with the false “protection” of pessimism. And what better to share as we wait, than hope and optimism! Thanks for a thought-provoking response to this post!

  11. I have been away from my computer for a week so am starting with the missed Defeat Despairs as I catch up on the email. I am a people watcher. In an airport, at the doctor office, in a restaurant. I find myself watching and wondering. “Why are you here? Where are you going/coming?” I make up stories and pass judgement. Not in a bad way, just a judgement call. Except in traffic I don’t generally mind waiting. I can observe people and think of the stories I will never write. I prefer to wait where it’s quiet and people are not being rude. People are often rude when waiting. Sit and observe, it can be lots of fun. 🙂

    • Amy, you sound a lot like me; I’ve always been a people watcher. I always loved the airport for that reason. People reveal a lot about themselves when they travel, because they feel anonymous and aren’t as worried about what someone may think. As I read your comment, I thought, “she needs to write fiction.” Maybe someday when we are old and gray (ok, old and still using hair color) we can go on a writer’s retreat or to a conference together. Or maybe just sit around and read other people’s stories.

      • I definitely think fiction is the best genre for me. I would not have the patience to research facts for non fiction though even in fiction you have to be true or your audience isn’t happy. When we go to a movie and the military is portrayed at all then Stephen will say things like, “He would never wear those medals on that uniform” or something similar. I think people read that way too. If you are reading a detective novel you want the police and others to be properly uniformed and portrayed. I need to write about that which I am most happy with and that is the Cinderella stuff. I would love to go to a conference with you though you outshine me in every area.

        • Amy, most readers are well-informed (naturally, since they read!) and yes, they will catch the mistakes. I can’t blame them; I get really annoyed when a truly obvious error is made. A few years ago I read a much-hyped novel in which the main character — in 1988 or somewhere around there — looks up and finds an old friend “on the internet.” This is not someone who works in technology, so there is just no way your average Joe would have been able to do that in 1988, long before GUIs, widespread use of the web, and definitely before Facebook etc. For me it just screamed “anachronism!” and after that I seemed to see all sorts of bad writing errors in the text, whether they were there or not.


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