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Waiting . . .


It seems like we've been told to wait our entire lives . . .

  • Wait until I'm off the phone.
  • Wait until that cutie calls you (after you gave out your number at the party last night).
  • Wait until the flash goes off on the camera.
  • Wait until your mother gets home.
  • Wait until the glue dries.
  • Wait until you are older.
  • Wait until after graduation. 
  • Wait until you retire.
  • Wait until the end of the third month of the pregnancy.
  • Wait until the kids are off to college.
  • Wait until you are living in your own place.
  • Wait until the divorce is final.
  • Wait until the airplane comes to a complete stop and the pilot turns off the "fasten seat belts" sign.
  • Wait until the end of the month. The end of the quarter. The end of the fiscal year.
  • Wait until the hostess raises her fork before you dig into your dessert. 
  • Wait until you are married.
  • Wait until you make partner.
  • Wait until you get tenure.
  • Wait until next year. (Go Cubs!) 
  • Wait until all the ballots are counted.
  • Wait until the jury returns its verdict. 
  • Wait until the appeals are exhausted. 
  • Wait eight hours, until the brisket has finished smoking on the grill. (At least eight hours. Trust me.)
  • Wait three months, until the tomatoes are completely ripe.
  • Wait ten years, until that that bottle of wine is ready to be opened.

Face it — we do a lot of waiting.

I've done more than a little waiting in hospitals, with family members, friends, and parishioners. In all that waiting around, I've made a simple but profound observation: people wait in their own ways.

Some people are content to sit quietly, while others have to – absolutely have to – talk and move and do something. Some are filled with questions about the procedures and the tests and the diagnosis and the prognosis, and some are filled with contented trust in the doctors, nurses, and medical experts of all shapes and sizes. Some are constantly looking at their watches ("but the doctor said she'd be back in 15 minutes, and it's been 17 and a half!"), while others couldn't care less about the time ("It's 3:00 already?"). Some are on the phone to other family members filling them in on every little detail (". . . and then the nurse gave him a glass of cool water to drink . . ."), some try to rearrange their schedules with clients, and some try to conduct business while sitting in the waiting room.

People wait in their own ways. 

Watching and waiting around here on Thursday and Friday for news of Jane's surgery reminded me of the hospital stay of one of my former parishioners. She was a pillar of the congregation, in her mid-80s, and everyone in the parish knew she was going in for surgery at 7 AM. I went with her, then sat with her out-of-town family members in the waiting room while the surgery was taking place. After she came out of the OR, I visited with her for a bit, then went back to the office around 1PM.

The church secretary – normally quite calm – was almost frantic. "Thank God you're back!" she said, hanging up the phone. "Why? What's wrong?" I asked her, thinking there'd been some disastrous setback since I left the hospital. "The phone has been ringing off the hook since I got here at 8:30, and everyone has the same question: 'How is she?' Then it's 'What can I do?' and 'When can I visit?' and 'When is she coming home?'" Just then, the phone rang, and we both burst out laughing. 

People wait in their own ways.

We've all been concerned about Jane, and many have offered to help. We've offered to help with understanding medical jargon, help with finances and insurance, help with meals, help with Kobe, help with this and help with that. We've offered to send flowers, to send prayers, to send good thoughts, to send money, to come and send ourselves even. Last night, TRex asked folks to send photos of themselves to our good friend Monk, who wants to make a collage of FDL readers to give to Jane, and many have taken them up on that. In ways large and small, we want to help. That's what we do for family members who are ill, for friends in the hospital, for neighbors in need.

And that's good – no, that's great. The human race would be in sad shape, if we acted otherwise. Help is good, but it needs to be the right help, at the right time, in the right place, and at times we all have trouble with that. 

Jane is through the immediate danger of the surgery, and our shock has been replaced with a bit of euphoria ("Beat the cancer? Check. Beat Libby? Let's go . . ."). But this isn't a sprint – it's more of a marathon, with a finish line that no one seems to be able to locate. Getting through the surgery is a big milestone, and then will come test results, additional treatments, followup office visits, additional tests . . . 

Folks, this isn't going to be over for quite a while. 

One of the odd dynamics of this situation is that at FDL, we've become accustomed to instant answers to questions. Jane, Christy, or some other poster will have some fabulous thoughts to get things rolling on a thread, the conversation picks up speed, and questions get tossed out. The person whose name is at the top of the thread may not have the answer, but sure enough, one of the firepups does, or knows where to go to find the answer. We've got enough of us hanging out here that most questions get an answer from someone (or several someones!) pretty quick. Sometimes lots of answers, conflicting answers even, and then we get to hash them out to see which one fits best. We love our answers.

Then came Thursday.

With Jane's surgery, we had lots of questions that simply had no answers. "When will she be done in the OR?" "When will she be blogging again?" "What's the prognosis?" Slowly, the surgeons began to see some clues toward possible answers, and they were passed to folks outside the OR, who passed them on to Christy, who passed them on to us. "What next?" we've been asking, going through Waiting Room thread after Waiting Room thread after Waiting Room thread, and we still don't know.

Most of all, Jane doesn't know.

You remember Jane? First and foremost, this all belongs to her. Not to me, not to you, not to Christy or Pach or TRex, not to her medical caregivers, but to Jane. That's hard to remember sometimes, given how open she seems about so much, but it's true. It's hard to remember, when we want so badly to help her carry the load, but it's true. 

Here at FDL, if someone wants to share things about themselves – be it their name, their email address, their profession, their health situation, their finances, or their insurance coverage – that's their business. People don't typically pry, and if someone doesn't want to open up, that's up to them. We need to remember that the same applies to Jane. If/when Jane wants to share details, that's her decision to make – just as each of us make the same decisions every time we put up a comment about ourselves. She gets to decide, not you and not me.

So we wait. 

One of the most helpful things I learned about waiting came from a crusty, old – ancient, really – and incredibly gifted ICU head nurse. I had been hovering at the nurses' station, wearing my collar and waiting for a parishioner to get out of surgery and back to the ICU. This was years ago when I was a newly ordained minister, all of 25 years old (and looked about 15), and this dear woman said to me in her finest, most sincere southern drawl, "Son," – dragging it out into a three syllable word – "I have great respect for the clergy, but you need to understand something. Your urgency is your problem, not your parishioner's. He's got his issues, and you've got yours – try to sort out which ones belong to you, because he's got enough as it is."

Wise words, that I've held onto ever since.

Face it – we do a lot of waiting. It may not be easy, but we've had lots of practice at it. So hang in there, everyone, and take a couple of breaths. Maybe open up that ten year old bottle of wine while you're waiting. Open it up, but wait at least an hour for it to breathe. 

Let me close with a few words for Jane, if she's around: Jane, we love you, and whatever you want to share with us is up to you. In your announcement about the surgery, you "resorted" to the truth. Thank you for that. When and if you want to share more, and even if you don't, we're here for you. When and if you need something, we're here for you – all you have to do is ask. 

Meanwhile, the world keeps turning. Scooter Libby still needs skewering, the Constitution still needs protecting, and cute little Peanuts still need hugs.

Some things can't wait.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.