On the Pain (and Sometimes Pleasure) of “Waiting”

09 Nov On the Pain (and Sometimes Pleasure) of “Waiting”

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 7.11.22


Waiting – the act of hanging about in some degree of limbo – is rarely described in positive terms. Even the rooms set aside expressly for this purpose are mostly sad affairs – bad art, out-of-date magazines, uncomfortable chairs and an even less comfortable silence. When was the last time you stepped into a waiting room and thought, “Wow, I hope I get to be here for ages”?

Of course, in these spaces we can be waiting for potentially bad news. Sometimes you don’t know how worried you’ve been until you find out that everything is fine. There was a scan a few weeks ago that I’d thought I was totally relaxed about until I got the all-clear. At which point I drove home, cancelled that evening’s plans, collapsed on the couch and had a jolly good cry.

Where, I thought between sobs, were these sobs coming from? The news was good! But there must have been more anxiety humming in the background over those days between test and results than I’d been conscious of. How weird was I?

Not so weird – you’ve probably felt it, too. Last week there was a wonderful text from my friend who had experienced exactly this – a level of relief about good news that showed just how much she had dreaded something bad. She was texting now from under her duvet.

So there is anxious waiting, but we can forget there are other kinds, some of which are delicious. I’ve always liked the bit between exams (of the academic kind) and the posting of results. A golden period after the work, but before the judgement. There’s a chance it went well, so you can choose to imagine it has. Or at least try that choice on and see how it feels before the dread sneaks back in.

I have felt that kind of delicious waiting again in recent years during the spell between writing a book and releasing it into the wild. Again, it’s a golden time when your work is done, your deadline has been met, but no one has read it yet and it feels like a secret. Might be a good secret, no?

Ditto for opening night of a new show. That pause after the creation and before the reviews come in is when you can imagine a world where what you created is good because no one has told you yet that it’s not. As waiting rooms go, that’s a fine place to loiter.

I think of this kind of “waiting” when I’m hosting an awards night for a business or community group and at the start of the night you look out at a room filled who people who have been nominated for something special, and they are wearing a thing that’s fancy and also new, and there is the possibility for each of them that they’ll hear their name called.

There are other kinds of waiting, too. Not for “results” for but for events on a calendar, like Xmas or the return of someone we love – happy anticipation. Or when you’ve been asked to keep a secret about something really good, and waiting feels like tucking a little treasure into your pocket for later. Or the wait can be less patient when it is for things we need like money (the cheque’s in the mail, mate).

And we wait for babies to arrive, which involves a little of all the above. And almost as soon as they’re here, we start teaching them how to wait, with patience.