If you’re always waiting for the hard part to be over, you’re going to wait your entire life.
I’ve been waiting my whole life. Waiting to get my ears pierced so I could stop wearing (unreliable) plastic press-ons, to turn sixteen and get behind the wheel by myself, to start twelfth grade and be a top-dog senior, with off-campus lunch privileges and skip days. I’ve been waiting to graduate high school and experience the independence of carefree college life, to snag my first boyfriend, first kiss, first breakup (so I could finally “get” all the feels behind those John Mayer songs).
I’ve been waiting to graduate college, live with random roommates, get my first job… then quit my first job, get married, and start my graduate studies. I’ve been waiting to turn 30 and finally take myself seriously (still waiting), to get pregnant, then for pregnancy to be over. I’ve been waiting to feel like a competent parent, waiting for the toddler years to pass, waiting to start up my post-baby “real life” again, to travel, to find my calling, and fulfill my grander purpose.
All of this time, I’ve been waiting. And now, at the wise old age of 31, I’m experiencing “how the hell did I get here?” moments. How the hell did 31 years of life pass by? How the hell am I a mom of two kids, with a husband, a mortgage, and “real” responsibilities? How the hell did I wish away 31 years of truly good stuff, and more importantly, how can I stop wishing and waiting away my remaining time here?
I’m beginning to believe that (one of) the most important lessons in life is learning to wait well — to simultaneously imagine and yearn for what’s to come, while squeezing every last shred of goodness out of the current situation; to be fully present in this moment, right now, while also mapping out a future that is worth wishing for, and waiting for, eagerly.
Some of the very best people I know in this life are exceptional at waiting. They live in the here and now, soaking it all in with electric curiosity; with a breezy air of wonder, they accept the less-than-ideal parts of their present — the parts that are actually quite hard, and painful — understanding that these are just part of the full human experience. Life is good mixed with bad, and these folks masterfully maintain perspective of the whole picture, rather than focusing only on the darker valleys.
As you may have gathered, I’m not good at waiting. I’m not naturally adept at focusing on the good over the bad, and somehow the reality of my transience slips my mind on an almost daily basis. The fact is, we are here for such a short time, and finally, at 31, I feel the weight of that truth. Four years into motherhood, I finally agree that yes, the time does go ridiculously fast, and all of those moments spent angrily and tearfully wishing away the colic, the tantrums, and the mess of having babies vanished into mist. Although I can’t put my finger on precisely when, there came a day my kids no longer needed bottle fed, or rocked to sleep.
My wish to be free of their newborn neediness was finally granted, and now I finally know in my deepest soul how temporary is every single part of life. Nothing lasts forever, and no matter how you feel about the turning of the seasons, it’s clear to me that each holds a healthy mix of happiness and heartache. And yet I still cling to the misguided belief that the future holds nothing but rainbows and sunshine, and that if I can just get from here to there, I’ll finally be fill-in-the-blank… happy… successful… fulfilled… satisfied…
It took me 31 years to figure out that my purpose is to mine this phase, this moment in time, for absolutely every nugget of gold available. I like to think of life as a videogame conspicuously void of a pause button, one in which I’m ushered through different rooms of a gigantic mansion. Every phase of life is a door that opens to another room of that mansion, and my objective is to search each room for every shred of wisdom and experience before I’m hustled along into the next waiting area, and the door to this one closes forever.
My husband and I are relocating our family to Costa Rica next April. We’re planning for it, talking about it, hungrily feasting on the pending possibility of adventure. It feels natural to me to fritter away the next ten months of life wishing and waiting for our departure, living as though my time in Montana is already over. It’s easy for me to marinate in all of the things I don’t enjoy about where I now live, all of the things I wish were different.
A week ago, a friend in Vancouver sent me an email, signing off with: “smile — you live in one of my favorite places on the planet.” And I thought, “Fuck yeah, I do.” Her simple admonition reminded me to look around at the beauty right in my own backyard, to marvel at the river and mountains, to look at my friendships with fresh eyes and a renewed energy. This phase, this time period and particular geographic location, are filled with wondrous treasure if I’m willing to search it out. There are still lessons here to learn, natural splendor to enjoy, people to meet, relationships to deepen and strengthen.
I don’t want to rush through 31 more years, only to realize I’ve wished them all away. I don’t want a lifetime of “how did I get here?” moments, where I can’t recall exactly how I spent my days and hours — only that I impatiently waited for them to pass so that I could finally move on to the next big thing. I want to learn to wait well, to cultivate gratitude and appreciation, to practice taking note of the good things that surround me in every phase of life. Because they’re always there, even in the difficult seasons, available to anyone with open eyes to see. In the end, life is really just one big waiting room, and the joy and happiness belong to those who inhabit it well.