The Privilege of Distraction

I’m an insulin dependent gestational diabetic, which means that this stage of my pregnancy often finds me spending lots of time at the hospital for weekly non-stress tests, for more frequent ultrasounds, and for analysis of my diet and blood sugars. I don’t like the risk to the baby, but I do feel a little bit of comfort in these last weeks at having something “to do.”

The rolling of the vial, the flicking of the needle, the pricking fingertips and stabbing of my abdomen with the shot of insulin–all of it makes me feel like I’m doing something quite productive with my time rather than twiddling my fingers until the day of baby’s arrival. I am, after all, inflicting on myself a steady stream of pain that ought to be good for something.

Of course, once the diet has been tweaked, and there’s no more eating or blood-sugar checking to do for the hour, I’m left with the painful knowledge that the passage of the next eight weeks is completely out of my hands. Having all these things to do, does not actually move time, and when you’re waiting for something really good, such knowledge can fill you with outrage.

Outrage may seem like a strong word for having to wait for a baby, and yet there’s a reason we tell our children that it’s rude to keep people waiting. In the modern world, time is money, and hence, not valuing someone else’s time costs them something (and of course, if you make certain professionals wait, it may cost you something as well). To imply that someone’s time has no value is an insult to people who can put an actual dollar amount on every minute of their lives.

People of privilege are not used to waiting for anything, not our coffee, not our search results, not a boring sit in the doctor’s office–which is why one of the greatest privileges of all is the privilege of distraction. It’s a privilege to have a hand-held device with you in the john. It’s a privilege to have tvs in the corner of the post office. It’s a privilege to keep a book in your purse. Because distraction saves us from the outrage of knowing our time is being lost.

To wait with gladness is to put no price on your time, and it also means making oneself comfortable with uncertainty.

In every encounter I’ve had with true poverty, on American streets or in images of the third world,  the poor sit and wait with arms stretched out for their next meal, for a hand-out, or for medical care. To be still and wait is the vocation of the poor, which may be why we feel outraged when we are made to do it.

Waiting is a discipline most people only practice when they have to. To sit in quiet and stillness even for a few minutes each day, waiting on God, or just acknowledging the ultimate powerlessness of our lives, is terribly uncomfortable. I don’t like to acknowledge uncertainty. I don’t like to feel empty or impotent.

Only the poor live in a chronic state of uncertainty about their futures, alert to the gifts the day might bring, as their lives depend on those gifts. So when we refuse to be still and to wait–to be poor–we often close ourselves to a life of gifts.

Gifts of true value, like a baby, like the indwelling of God in our soul, we can only receive with humility and the passage of ample time as we wait for the gift, or for our souls, to mature.

I’m waiting for a baby due right around Christmas. In the past I’ve been uncertain how to observe Advent when I’m out shopping and decorating and planning, but this year seems pretty straightforward. I’ve passed off all the Christmas preparations to my husband, because I’m tired, and my body complains when it has to do more than sit for any period of time.

The outrage and impatience I feel about the state of things is incompatible with the humility required to see the Baby King. And it also just makes the time required to finish gestating this child rather unbearable.

I’m tempted to distract myself through these last months of waiting, embracing the privileges that I’ve grown to expect and enjoy, but I’m trying to spend a few minutes each day, usually in the morning, doing absolutely nothing. I want to know the blessing of poverty, to accept the cross of uncertainty, and to be alert to the gifts the day may provide.

Control is an illusion and distraction is its handmaiden. “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies.” (Is 30:15b)

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  • Hope

    So ironic to read this as I sit in a hospital waiting room! I have often said that if waiting is my biggest problem then I really have no problems. However, I never said that when I was pregnant. My youngest was a Christmas baby born on New Year’s Eve.

    • Elizabeth Duffy

      New year’s is a very possible due date for me. Can’t say I’m not counting on Christmas to keep my mind off it.

    • Melanie B

      I’m scheduled for a c-section on New Year’s Eve. It feels really surreal to me.

      • Elizabeth Duffy

        This may be obnoxious to acknowledge, but: Child tax credit BONUS!

        Really, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate New Year’s Eve. I’ll be thinking of you, and wishing I could join you.

        • Melanie B

          Oh not obnoxious at all. Dom has been talking about the tax credit bonus ever since we found out my due date. He was so relieved when they scheduled the surgery for before Jan 1.
          I guess this New Year the likelihood of actually seeing midnight will be pretty good. And maybe I can even get Dom to bring me some sushi and champagne. Wish you could join me too. Maybe you’ll have a baby by then anyway.

          • Elizabeth Duffy

            If I haven’t gone into labor by then, the doc will induce me the following week. I am really trying hard to let this baby cook as long as necessary, but between the tax credit, and our high deductible insurance resetting at the new year, having this baby in 2012 is worth a couple Gs.

            I hate that I think that way. Can I blame the government?

  • JMB

    So true, we just had to wait 9 long, cold days for our power and heat to be restored after Hurricane Sandy. There was literally nothing we could do. It was awful. Talk about humbling. You realize that control is just another illusion that we have. I hope the rest of your pregnancy goes well!

    • Elizabeth Duffy


      I hope you’re all booted up then, and back to something like normal.

  • Nancy

    This is a fine piece of thinking, and a fine piece of writing too. I really appreciate the connections you’ve made between poverty/privilege and our expectations about waiting. You’ve made me think about how Christianity is usually more easily welcomed among the poor (I’m thinking of India, of Jesus’ own time, and of us here in the US), or those that at least realize our own poverty of spirit — we don’t really want Jesus until we can acknowledge the lack of something big in our lives.

    • Elizabeth Duffy

      “Christianity is usually more easily welcomed among the poor”

      –I’ve been thinking about this a lot, how I become complacent to some of the most significant aspects of Christianity because I live a relatively comfortable life. It’s so easy to do.

  • Io

    I really like this. Although you don’t mention it in your piece, needing to learn to wait applies to any kind of healing as well, whether it’s physical or healing from bad experiences. I think with the latter in particular it’s tempting to believe that we can just choose to feel better whenever we want, and having to give up that control and be patient certainly requires supernatural assistance.

    • Elizabeth Duffy

      “it’s tempting to believe that we can just choose to feel better whenever we want”–this is very much a temptation I fall into again and again, thinking there must be a formula to solve every problem, even (especially) thinking that the formula is to pray more. Praying more is always good, but it doesn’t do the specific work of time.

  • Manny

    What a wonderful piece. There’s a lot of wisdom there. I wish I could make more time to just do nothing. One of my real pleasures lately is to sit in my arm chair when everyone else is out of the house. How rare it is that actually happens.

  • Ted Seeber

    Yesterday my cell phone battery did not charge. I did not know this until I was already on the train- and since I had a Knights meeting, no time to go back and change. Last night on the train, I said a rosary.

    Sometimes the real gift is not being distracted.

  • Manny

    Oh I just remembered a great quote by TS Eliot that is applicable. It’s from the Burnt Norton section of The four Quartets. “Distracted from distraction by distraction.” In context I believe he means to say that all of life is a distraction from the one thing that is not, and that is worship of God.

    • Melanie B

      I love that line from Eliot. I hadn’t thought of it in this context; but quite perfect here.

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  • conservativemama

    I went into labor on Christmas Day, in the evening, after all the fun and the clean up. My daughter was born the next day. As I tell her often, she’s my favorite Christmas gift. A wonderful time to have a baby.