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A WASTE OF TIME


We know the clichés:

“This is the worst traffic ever!”

“I’ve never been on hold this long.”

“If you knew how much I hate standing in line.”

All of them mean: “It’s such a waste of time!” Often, it is a substantial amount of time. This is a given; so is hearing ourselves and others com-plain about it. We feel powerless and a little guilty, because wasting time is frowned upon like indolence and gluttony. It brushes up against sin in a society that values the twin virtues of hard work and efficiency. Judgments follow: He’s shiftless. She neglects her house to watch soap operas. He whines about things he could do something about. She pores over food magazines for hours and never cooks!  “It’s such a waste of time!”

Or is it? Those activities are choices. It’s not for me to judge someone else’s hobby or harmless indulgence as a waste of time. Waiting on hold or in line is an irritating but generally necessary step toward a goal. As we are a species given to criticism, whining while waiting is a fairly easy habit to cultivate. Discussion of the constructive use of both positive and negative criticism is a nut to crack for another cocktail hour. Right now, the one up for scrutiny is time-swallowing events.

Long moments of waiting on line or on hold can be tough for impatient folks, and I plead guilty. Rather, I used to. More lately, reflection led my pique to pass. Waiting morphed into serendipitous patches of time suspended, during which small achievements became possible. It was Illuminating to transform idle time into moments of time well spent. Choice made the change possible.

My impatient-waiter brain used to flood itself with niggling, unhelpful thoughts. My favorite started with, “This totally sucks. I could be …” and runs along a familiar road:

·         doing all those dishes from last night’s party. Fait accompli by now.

·         finished with a necessary bathroom break

·         having breakfast and lunch, instead of waiting for someone who’s

probably eating hers.

·         completing the first movement of a symphony.

·         out for a bracing walk with the dogs; we all need it,

·         wrapping Christmas presents. How many could I do before the Muzak recycled?

·         halfway through War and Peace! 


You see the emerging pattern to these idling thoughts: they are non-productive self-mutterings. Now, did I imply that every activity must lead to an achievement? No, I did not. Remember, though, we’re discussing the annoyance of waiting till a small forever passes and we feel in charge again. That’s the nut: we feel out of control. If we choose to stay on line toward an end,waiting might as well shift from fretful to fun. Anticipation dilutes the annoyance.

You will find that all sorts of options come to you when you decide to alter the way you view waiting. Especially, if you use a cell or other portable phone, alternatives to whining are easy to implement. We all know that changing a habit takes practice. Humans do enjoy complaining. That delicious peccadillo can be set aside to free your mind for something else. In a car, you can meditate, listen to music, appreciate your surroundings. Recently, I thought about my health while on hold. My need to add to the burden of my sewer system, to so speak, was urgent. This time, instead of “holding it,” which well-meaning adults trained children to do, I hung up and headed for the loo.

For my mother, the “something else” to do was doodling. She was an expert. A line or curve grew into a clever drawing by the time she was off the phone. She disliked chatting on the phone so much that she even saw it as a … well you know. Ever the multi-tasker, she entertained herself with a doodle or a crossword puzzle while conversing with half her brain. Half her brain was quite sufficient.

Decide if the pay-off for kvetching is worth the energy. If not, I wager you have some gems for dealing with the stress of waiting. I’d like to hear them. Do you make a grocery list? Dance in place? Drown out Muzak with your own favorite tunes? Maybe you write ridiculous inventories like mine?

Between the inhales and the exhales of living, there is Still Life. That is, there is a fleeting cluster of still or quiet seconds; and life itself remains within them. What we do with our snatches of on-hold time can result in frustration, anxiety, vexation—or in discovery, delicious frivol, even profound thinking. Stuck in a maddening serpent of traffic, relish a few deep breaths because, like hours, days, weeks, months, and years, once they are spent, we don’t get them back. Minutes and breaths count in every life. Exhilarating! Calming? A habit-changer? On or offline, you get to decide.

                                                 〜


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