I have been waiting. Does it matter for what? For a dream to be fulfilled. Let’s leave it at that. And in waiting, I have spent as much time thinking about waiting as I have about my dream.
Waiting is the anxious cousin of anticipation. It is expectation without temerity; it is perpetual suspense, but with a heavy dose of resignation. The moment you think, this is going to take a while, you begin to wait. Although we associate waiting with sitting or lying prostrate, waiting can also be active. It is often the mental noise behind the checklist of what needs to be done. I have heard expectant mothers talk about the months between conception and birth as full of joy and dread. There is worry as much as hope, and excitement as much as patience. The entrepreneurs and novelists and musicians and athletes I have known (of all genders) describe a similar mental experience. Waiting requires stamina and the ability to put your deepest wishes in the background so that the daily requirements of living can be executed in the meantime. Waiting is about the long-view and delayed rewards.
In my worst moments, waiting takes the foreground, and it seizes and distracts me so thoroughly from the present that I have ruined good conversations by obsessively ruminating over what has not yet occurred. The people closest to me are patient. They wait for me with the same patience I wait for my dream. They are waiting for me to come back to the moment and let the future be on its own, outside my control. I am lucky to know their kind of love. It is a love that knows when to sit and let a cloud pass, that does not try to fix what cannot be fixed. It is a love that teaches me about accumulation and how today is already a part of whatever next year may contain.
When I was a teenager I remember wanting so badly to be grown already. I felt like I was waiting for my life to start. And then in my twenties, I remember wondering when I would know what shape my life would take and what arc would be most prominent—love, career, art, family? Now in my thirties—and how strange that I still sound so young to myself?—I do not wait for my life to start or expect my career, my art, my relationships, my family to take any particular shape. I have given up on the myth of settling, or at least on the thought I could ever be a person who is settled. Instead I now wait to see the consequences and fall-out of decisions I made years ago. I wonder at the unpredictable influence of new people in my life. And I know in the end it will all make sense to me, the way the past makes sense to historians.
While most of the waiting in my life has been for different beginnings, so too I have known the waiting that attends expected ends. The end of a marriage. The end of a life. Such endings are not easily discussed. The strange part of waiting for an end is that the waiting is not much different than waiting for a beginning. There is an overwhelming desire to cross over, to be in and past the moment of action. But unlike when we wait for new beginnings, shame can accompany this other want. How dare we wish for a marriage to be over? How dare we hope for a life to end? Because, we think, erroneously, it is harder to wait than it is to mourn. We want a change, and we’ll take any change over the perpetual disquiet.
But because I have seen the other side of waiting—the way that an event anticipated can occur and pass and become ephemeral faster than can be believed—I have learned that we must learn to love the wait, all the waits, any wait. Waiting is the silence between laughter. It is the quiet before the timpani’s thunder. We do not recognize that waiting is rest, because we are not accustomed to letting ourselves be. Stillness can be scary; it is the absence of our busyness, and we often mistake busyness for meaning. But stillness can be full, and generative, and incubate the best of who we are and what we might create. I think our cultural obsession with events and excitement and launches and weddings and divorces and sudden carnage is a distraction from the real substance of life. When we read, we do not rush to the exclamation point or the period. We attend to the words and enjoy the spaces between them because they give order to the meaning therein.
I am trying to treat my waiting like a sentence, as though every progress towards my dream could be a word and every unexpected delay or setback could be a space between. Most days I succeed. Sometimes I don’t and I am impatient and quick to anger. I get tired and my fatigue reminds me again: rest, be still. You do not know what dreams may come.
Laura Jean Moore is the 2014 winner of the Cobalt Review’s Zora Neale Hurston Fiction Prize. Her poetry, essays, and stories have been featured or are forthcoming in FLUX WEEKLY, VICE, [PANK], the EEEL, the Brooklyn Rail, ENTROPY, Corium, and Change Seven, where she is a monthly columnist. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and a BA from Reed College. She is suspicious of most things.
Read All Columns by Laura Jean Moore
- On Greatness
- Whiteness, A Study
- New York
- American Dreams
- Body Talk
- Habits, Simple and Austere
- On Love