Editor’s Notebook: The waiting trap
The old, perfectly weathered high school baseball glove. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)
Years ago, my wife read “Waiting” by Ha Jin. She reads more than I do, and whenever she finishes a book I ask her about the plot and the writing style, what she did and didn’t like, and what she thought of the ending. That time, she looked gloomy as she set the book down.
After pausing for a few seconds, she said something like, “It’s so sad – to spend your whole life just waiting.”
Although my wife and I tend to have different literary tastes, sometimes if she really likes something I’ll read it when she’s done and vice versa. Over the years she’s given me “The Elegance of the Hedgehog,” “Little Fires Everywhere,” “The Stand,” and others I’m grateful to have read. But it’s been more than 20 years since she read “Waiting,” and even though it seems like my kind of novel I have yet to pull it from the shelf. There are few things in life more tragic than wasted time, and so I guess I just don’t have the stomach for it.
Over the past two years, the world has done a lot of waiting. First, we waited to see how bad the pandemic was going to get. Then, we waited for the vaccine and a return to normalcy. Then, we waited for the booster and the arrival of the next variant. Now, we’re waiting to see whether we’re in the midst of an ending – and that means a new beginning – or just a lull in this long slog.
Some of you have been nothing short of inspirational in the way you’ve handled the waiting. You have spent meaningful time with loved ones inside your bubble; you have rededicated yourself to an old hobby or found a new one; you have become more active in political and social issues; you have made getting outdoors an even greater priority. In other words, you have seized day after day – despite these most challenging months – and reclaimed time.
But for those of us with a tendency to get trapped inside our own heads, there are endless pitfalls within the waiting. Anything and everything can be stripped of meaning if you want to go that route; anything and everything can be labeled a waste of time. Once you get on that ride, the result is suspended animation.
I have always loved everything about baseball – the smell of a freshly oiled glove, the way the ball’s red stitches feel on my fingertips, the metallic ping or wooden crack of a properly barreled ball. “That was a good win for the Sox last night” was the way my father and I apologized a day later for saying something we didn’t mean, and every time I took position at third base on my school team I got to stop being a lost teenager for a couple of hours.
I still have my high school glove, but somewhere along the way I stopped oiling it. Every once in a while I pick up a ball just to feel the stitches again, but it’s been years since I played catch. Any swings I take these days involve an ax and woodpile.
And that’s fine – we all have to stop playing our games someday. But two years ago, I even stopped watching them.
It wasn’t a conscious move. I didn’t decide after a half-century of being a baseball fan that watching the Red Sox play on TV was a waste of time, that I could do better than giving a whole afternoon to a bunch of millionaires playing a kids’ game. I just stopped – and I know now that in my contemplation of time during the pandemic I went too far. It wasn’t just baseball. I have been reading less, cooking less, playing less, aspiring less.
I’ve been restless, waiting.
One year, my high school baseball coach sat us down by the left field line before a road playoff game to try to get our minds in the proper place. He was a great mentor who truly cared more about helping us become better versions of ourselves than winning games – but he really wanted that one. I don’t remember what he said to us – except for one line: “In 100 years none of this will matter, but dammit, it matters now.”
He was right. He’s still right.
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