Waiting to see if your new pain, out of nowhere, will resolve itself. Waiting for the surgeon’s office to return your distress call. Waiting to hear when you can be squeezed into the jammed CT scan schedule. Waiting to eat because if they can fit you in today, you need to be fasting. Waiting in a room filled with other waiters, all stoically counting minutes until it’s their turn to be stuck, probed, imaged. The longest wait – waiting for results. Waiting for the medical team to decide what happens next. Listening to an internal clock, ticking in a terrible silence. Waiting.
The waiting is the hardest part. It’s the part that erodes what little confidence you have left. It makes you irritable and resentful. It brings out the sulky, immature side of a person that is otherwise kept under more polite wraps. Rubbing tender spots at your temples, eyes closed. Or looking skyward, blinking, working hard not to cry. Pretending to read. Never moving on from page 34. Consciously unfurrowing a brow in company while yearning to be alone so the façade can be dropped. Then wishing for company to fill the hammering stillness. Carrying the phone everywhere. Checking that the ringer is on, volume up, that there are no missed messages. This is what waiting makes us do. Waiting is T. S. Eliot’s “fear in a handful of dust.”
The opposite of waiting is having a plan. The decisiveness of a scheduled surgery date or a clear treatment protocol or a ‘see you in six months’ dismissal – those are plans that give you back your legs. Suddenly you can do the laundry, make a lunch date with a friend, determine a return-to-work date, cook dinner. None of these things happen during wait time. Wait time is too burdened, too heavy, too knotted up with anxiety, too filled with inertia.
A friend who has traveled the cancer road said to me recently how it irks her when people talk about their cancer as a gift, a mystical eye opener, a come-to-Jesus (insert your deity here) moment. No, we agreed, cancer is no gift (if it is, you should take it back and demand a full refund), but it does change the tenor and cadence of one’s life. Waiting is a burden, but I have been reminded over and over again these past few months that waiting is just punctuation in the complex sentences and paragraphs of a rich and full life. As an English teacher, I know how punctuation changes meaning, joking with my students about the universe of difference between “Let’s eat grandma” and “Let’s eat, grandma.” Waiting is the comma, the dash, the semicolon, the ellipsis, all of which give us pause, but none of which is the full stop.
So, now I am between waits. I am living, writing my life’s story in wonderful run ons that deliberately swoop and meander. Future waits will come, some in predictable fashion (like the scan already scheduled six months out), while others may arrive unexpectedly. In either case, it cannot be wait time that defines my life, so today I raise my face to the sun and embrace this ongoing journey. Thank you for traveling alongside me, always at the ready with a supportive hand when the terrain is rough. Waiting is isolating and lonely, but living is not.
A beautiful cardinal frequents the flowering tall bush outside my bedroom window, red berries and flowers often making him difficult to see. It is the sudden movement of his wings that lets me know he is there. I have to deliberately stop and look. Sometimes, I have to be willing to wait.
Reprinted with Permission. See the original article.