Happy New Year, everyone. I hope this new year brings us all a healthy body, a glad heart, and days full-filled rather than filled.
What do I wish myself? Patience. A particular kind of patience, the kind that knows that waiting is its own goal and possesses its own sacredness.
I’ve always hated waiting. I would look at my watch, feel my breaths getting shallower, visualize what I could be doing right this minute and how time was slipping by with NO NOTICEABLE RESULTS.
On Wednesday evening I’ll meet with Jimena once again at the front porch of her home to give out food cards. The office where she works has shut down due to surging numbers of omicron, so we’re back in her uninsulated front porch and I’ll have to really dress warm. Just in case I get too whiny about it, young mothers come with their small children snug and warm in heavy coats and jackets while they, the young mothers, wear sneakers rather than boots, thin pants that reveal bare ankles uncovered by socks, and jackets? Sometimes.
“Aren’t you cold?” I say, teeth chattering. They shrug jauntily, as if the weather is the last thing they have to worry about.
If they don’t come on time, as often happens, the waiting begins: I chat with Jimena, catch up on how people are doing, the kids, the schools, who’s been to the hospital and who is finally well (I heard Hilaria was doing much better and will get more details on Wednesday). Get the inside scoop on how people are making it through winter when the farms are closed, when the utility bills are unpaid and the money they put aside in summer quickly diminishes and then disappears. Even as I write this I am waiting for a response from Jimena about someone needing desperate help for rent.
At some point we stop talking and waiting commences. I think about the passing evening hours, how I have to get home to finish some things that still need work, curl my freezing toes inside my boots, take a breath or two, and still get impatient.
Here’s what I’ve learned only recently: Waiting is its own spiritual practice. Waiting is sacred. Waiting implies that I’m open to the possibility that nothing will happen according to my timeframes, my deadlines. It may feel passive, but it’s not. I’m holding the space for something to happen, knowing that it may and may not, and that assuming it happens it won’t do so punctually. It won’t happen on my time. In fact, it won’t happen on time at all because I don’t even know what that means anymore.
When we used to work in the Middle East I was always moved by both Israeli and Palestinian peace activists. Majorities had moved in the opposite direction, bombings and bloodshed continued, and at times I’d see a small group of people bearing banners at intersections and getting cursed out by passing drivers. They were waiting. Not passively at all, but waiting nevertheless, holding the space for the change that would come.
There are so many things I wish would happen on time:
I want people to pick up food cards for their families on time each Wednesday;
I want them to speak English way better than they do. It’s not easy for me to stand on the margins and hear them chattering away with Jimena in Spanish while I struggle to follow with my barely basic Spanish. In general, being on the margin of activity rather than in its center is an important practice of waiting for me.
I want their children to finish school with honors and go to college, fulfill the American dream. It happens sometimes—I’ve written about it—but certainly not always. The kids are kids, they’ve been at home a lot, isolated from teachers and educators, with parents barely able to help them with computers and lessons. I want things to change and take root quickly, want to be able to share with you stories of great success. It doesn’t happen quickly so I have to wait.
I learned about waiting after Bernie died. I couldn’t understand this persistent grief and confusion, a misplaced sense of identity. One year passed, another year passed. “Something’s wrong here,” I told friends. I was doing grief too slowly. They said: “You have to wait.”
I think of my impatience with students and remember Bernie. He wanted so much to happen. It didn’t, and he was fine with that. As I get closer to his age I deeply appreciate the vast store of patience he had with his own students, and certainly with his wife.
I’d like this world to embrace differences of all kinds faster, to honor the species we share the earth with and take care of everyone. To act on what we already know. That’s certainly not happening on my time, according to my watch. I too, am to blame here. I don’t have the funds to switch to solar energy for my home (will have to cut down too many trees) and drive more than I absolutely have to. But if all that changed, I’d still have to wait.
Even the card above, expressing Emily’s gratitude for Christmas gifts that she and 81 of her friends received from you, reminds me of the practice of waiting. For what? So that Emily could spell Holodays as holidays? The universe has its own designs, its own misspelled words. How pretentious to think I know what those are! I have had the misfortune of rushing to get something done, stepping on toes, speeding through intersections, creating stress, hurt, and confusion. I couldn’t stand to be inactive; I couldn’t stand to wait.
Finally, finally, I’m learning.
I haven’t asked for help for immigrant families since before Thanksgiving. Winter is upon us—today only made it to the 20s and felt way colder than that—and for some families that will mean harsh choices with regard to food, heat, and utilities. If you could provide some help here, together we might be able to prolong the holodays a little longer. Thank you.
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