One of the most popular pieces I’ve ever written is about struggling with being on time. It led to a TV interview and people regularly bring it up in conversation. As Advent is the season of waiting, let’s take a look at one of the side effects of working on your own on-timeness: being on time when others are not.
When you’re on time and things go smoothly, you can point to your on-timeness and feel a sense of self-satisfaction at having contributed to the proper flow of the universe by having aligned yourself with the way things are meant to be. Call it spiritual pride or call it enjoying the fruits of “skillful means,” we all enjoy it when we do the right thing and things go our way. But what about when you are on time and someone else isn’t?
There’s a long-distance bus I catch fairly often in the summer coming back to the city at the end of the weekend. My stop is in the middle of its route and, almost every time, the bus is about 10 minutes late. This is not convenient. The place we wait isn’t covered and one time it was 15 minutes late, in pouring rain. I know the bus will probably be late, but I still have to make sure I’m there on time because every once in a while it’s right on schedule, and it doesn’t wait around for me if I’m late.
When the scheduled time arrives and the bus doesn’t, I see other travelers start checking the time. (I was going to say “checking their watches” but most people don’t check watches anymore, they check cell phones.) At first they do this as if to check their internal clock: “Isn’t it 11:50 yet? I’m sure it must be.” As the minutes tick by, the time checking starts getting more dramatic, as if to communicate: “You all see that the bus is late, right?!”
But the bus will arrive when the bus arrives. No matter what we do. And if it’s on time and I’m late I’ll miss it. There’s no choice to make. Or action to hurry it up. Simple as that.
Like pressing an elevator button more than once, all the street theater has no effect on the result.
So I wait.
The outraged ego
Often patiently. Sometimes not quite. I’ve noticed that if and how much I’m bothered by waiting is in direct proportion to how much effort and distress I went through to be there on time. If I stroll comfortably up to the stop in plenty of time and join the first people in line, then all is right in the world. But if I end up scrambling to get to the bus stop in time, anxious the whole way that I’ll miss it by a minute (there isn’t another one for hours) and then I end up waiting around, my ego is outraged. I didn’t need to rush! I didn’t need to stress myself out! My time is valuable; how dare they waste it!
This line of thinking veers into the magical when I start blaming the late bus for the fact that I am agitated from running late and having to rush. This doesn’t even make sense — but this is where the mind goes.
And being upset is all the crazier because, what actually happens if I’m on time and the bus is late? Well, I spend ten minutes enjoying the day (when it’s not raining), sometimes getting into an interesting conversation with one of the others waiting. It’s no hardship at all! It doesn’t even mean I’ll get home late; the bus makes up the time along the way.
Enjoying the present moment
Essentially, these negative thoughts all boil down to: I’m more important than anyone else. More important than the bus company having a schedule that helps them stay profitable; more important than the bus staying at a safe speed before it gets to my stop; more important than any human problems or equipment issues that contributed to the delay.
It doesn’t matter if you’re waiting for a bus or an elevator, for your turn in a line, or for that friend who often runs a little behind, the fact remains that working yourself up about it does no good.
So here’s what I propose, the next time you are waiting for someone or something and you find yourself getting irritated:
- Take a deep breath.
- Spend a minute reflecting on the fact that you don’t know why they’re late.
- Turn your attention to enjoying the present moment. If there’s something you could be doing, like checking email or reading, you can do that, but just being in the present moment is even better.
- If that doesn’t quite do it, pull out the big guns and pray for patience.
- If you’re waiting with other people, smile at one of them or start a conversation.
Often the irritation just evaporates. It was built on nothing but air in the first place.
What is your experience with waiting? Have you found other ways to be patient? Does it drive you crazy? Share below in the comments.
You can see all my Advent-themed pieces together at patheos.com/blogs/philfoxrose/tag/advent/. Please share this link, or just one to my blog, with anyone you think might be interested. Thanks!