We will be waiting for something until the day we die

We’re all waiting for something.

As kids, we waited for the time that we could do it ourselves, go it alone, tie our own shoelaces, order our own food off the menu, take our baths by ourselves, and walk up and down the street or around the mall without parental supervision. We were kids. We didn’t yet have enough life experience or enough insight to realize that the time we occupied, as kids, was some of the most precious we would ever have. The most free. The most unstructured. The most creative. The happiest.

How could we know? We didn’t need to know. And yet, we waited, impatiently, to grow up, to be big kids, to be teenagers, to be (gasp) adults. We couldn’t wait. Each day was a year long. Each year a lifetime.

As teens and shortly thereafter young adults, we waited to break that last little tether to parents, that last lifeline that kept us focused and responsible and fed and clothed and safe and warm by default. We knew by that time that we needed it, but we fought with every ounce of our being to prove that we didn’t.

We took the checks, the tuition, the allowances, the car payments, the insurance that we could not afford ourselves just yet. We grudgingly took the advice, secretly welcoming the injection of adult wisdom into our still chaotic inner worlds. We still felt ourselves adult, responsible, large and in charge, but we knew we were not, just yet.

We waited for that magic moment that would define us as adults. That moment, that landmark, that signpost that would let us know that we had arrived in a new country, a new world of freedoms and joys and control like none we had ever visited before. We waited to grow up and prove ourselves.

As adults, we entered the world of responsibility. We got our first real job, our first real paycheck, and maybe experienced real love for the first time. We moved up the ladder. We got married. We had our first child. We bought out first house. We picked out the first car that we had ever owned ourselves. We felt that sweet and heavy burden of making all the decisions and living with the consequences. We made friends just like us, and through birthday parties and football games and pizza dinners and six packs of beer, we slowly learned what it meant to live life. To be a family. To have and to hold.

Even as adults, we were waiting. We were often too busy to realize it. The feeling would creep up on us every once in a while, in the stillness of a summer evening on the porch swing or during a long walk around the neighborhood peeking into the Christmas light-lit front rooms of our neighbors and friends. We were still waiting, as we had been since childhood.

We were waiting for wisdom.

We hoped it would come on its own, somehow, with no effort on our part, sort of that rite of passage that receding hairlines and crow’s feet and a third child and the loss of a parent much too soon tend to bring us. Wisdom disguised as excruciating pain and bereavement and ecstatic joy and fear for the life of a sick child had not entered into the equation for us, at least not consciously. We did not want to work for wisdom. No one does. We did not want to lose part of ourselves to become wise. But you know, dear readers, that it is only by knowing real pain that we can later experience real joy, and by losing part of ourselves that we can ever really be whole.

And now we grow older, you and I. We have come through the breech, not once but many times. We have stories to tell, and my, don’t you know how much I love to tell stories. You have many of your own. What are we waiting for now? Is there anything left to anticipate, to long for, to work for, to reach out to?

May I speak plainly?

Some of us, my friends, are waiting to die. We see nothing else to live for. We have given up. We are resigned to the illness that will kill us, the marriage that will cage us, the job that will grind us down, or the depression that will never let us feel happiness again. I am sad for that, but I am hopeful that we will get the help we need to get unstuck and live life again.

Some of us are waiting for “it.” When it comes, we will be happy. When it happens, we will be fulfilled. When it is reached, we will have arrived. I have a newsflash for you. There is no magic “it.” “It” is what you make of it. Figure out what you need and make it happen There are no shortcuts. There is no magic.

Some of us are waiting for rescue. We see ourselves as victims. If only the prince will ride up on the white horse and whisk us away. If only the government will bail us out. If only the church will absolve us of our sins and wrongdoings. If only. We need to be rescued, saved, absolved, washed clean. Another very harsh newsflash for you in this new age. The cavalry is not coming. It’s underfunded. Any rescue operation is going to be conceived, planned, and executed by, guess who? That’s right.

Some of us are waiting for the next life. We have given up on this one. It is just too hard, too ambiguous, too dirty, too unstructured, too difficult. The next life will be one of sunshine and gold and unicorns and puppies and endless celebration. Now, this blog is not and never shall be a religious one, and I mean no disrespect to any of my readers who have a faith-based perspective on the world and its problems.

However, once again, no matter your feelings on the afterlife, this life is the one you are living now. Your waiting for nirvana is not going to get the trash taken out this evening. It’s not going to get dinner made. It’s not going to help you communicate with your coworkers.

Finally, some of us are waiting for enlightenment. If we can only read one more book or take one more class or reach one more transcendent state, we will understand what it all means and what part we play in it. We will have figured it all out. As one of my friends likes to say about herself, I was trained primarily as a scientist. I like to understand things, figure them out, and bring things to a reasonable conclusion that makes sense within my own world view. We’re all like that, I think, and why not. It gives us some level of peace and comfort. The truth? We will never know exactly what it all means. We will never be one hundred per cent sure. One of my priests always said the same, simple thing every time a parishioner died. “Well, now he knows.” For now, we can only make educated guesses.

My dear readers, we will be waiting for something until the day we die. It’s the natural state of things for man. Is that all this post is about? The futility of waiting? You know me better than that.

What will you do while you wait?

How will you make your life better now, in spite of the cancer or the divorce or the loss of your job or the death of your child?

How can you make your life, and the lives of those around you, better?

I would be glad to give you the definitive answer, but I see that our time is up.

I guess you’ll have to wait for it.

Or better yet, find it for yourself.

Greg Smith is a psychiatrist who blogs at gregsmithmd.

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