chains # 1

One night I had a dream in which I was waiting for a bus so that I could chaperone a high school field trip. When the bus arrived I stepped to one side and let a huge crowd of kids board before me. It was their field trip. I got out of the way so that they could have the first choice of seats. The other chaperone waiting with me in the dream is a good friend who is 6’6”. He was pissed that I had stepped to one side. Because of my actions, he was going to have to stand for the whole trip.

I love dreams. I love that I could continue stepping to one side my entire life without thinking much about it, but this one dream with it’s encrypted message about my very tall friend hunched over and uncomfortable during a long bus trip got my attention instantly. It has my attention still. When I close my eyes I see my friend who has absolutely no way whatsoever to be comfortable. I see his head and neck bent to one side, his shoulders hunched, and the side of his head intermittently hitting the metal ceiling whenever we hit a bump. Why would I want to do that to myself? Why would I choose time and time again to step to one side until everyone else is comfortable and then squeeze myself into whatever inadequate space is left.

For most of my adult life I have stepped to one side and waited. I waited until everyone left the house each morning before I started my day. I waited when I went to pick my kids up from preschool until they were finished with what they were doing and ready to go. I waited to start my life until everyone else in the family was on track and didn’t need anything. In the beginning, I am sure I looked like a patient kind person. I remember the self satisfaction I felt when I saw the other preschool kids hopping up in the middle of unfinished projects, a look of anxiety on their faces. so as not to keep their mother’s waiting.

Waiting stopped working for me after awhile. I began to feel irritated and angry all of the time. Sometimes I imagine sending notes of apology to my kid’s dental hygienists, their doctors, their teachers, and sales people in stores all over the city. I want to say I am sorry to anyone and everyone who kept me waiting and experienced my irritation, impatience, and indignation during those years. In my next phase I learned about mindfulness and returned to being patient and passive but with new awareness and understanding. I no longer minded if a doctor kept me waiting or if the 30-minute appointment for a tiny orthodontic adjustment took an hour and a half. I looked for meaning in individual moments. I looked for opportunities in unexpected delays. I quit yelling at my kids even on those mornings when they were moving so slowly that they missed the bus and I had to rearrange my day to drive them to school. I felt better, but I was still stepping to one side and letting everyone else go first.

30 years ago I was staying at a beautiful lodge in western Canada with my husband’s large family to celebrate the milestone birthday of one of his relatives. The management of the lodge left a gorgeous fruit basket in the guest of honor’s suite as a gift. On the first night we were there, everyone gathered around the table in the suite for the birthday dinner. After dinner, one of the other in-laws reached into the fruit basket and helped herself to a kiwi. It was the only one in the basket. It was the guest of honor’s favorite fruit.  The woman in this story divorced out of the family a few years after this trip, but everyone remembers and still talks about this moment and her selfishness as if it happened yesterday. Today, thinking about my bus stop dream I take my hat off to her and bow in admiration.  Yes, it would have been more polite of her to ask before she helped herself. That would have been the correct thing to do. At this moment however, I am smiling broadly at her ill-mannered moxie. I am impressed with the fact that she was not ruled by the need to ask permission, or to wait, or to take care of others. She saw something she wanted and she reached out and took it for herself.

Every time anyone flies on a plane we hear the safety instructions before take off. Over the years I have paid attention, tuned them out, and expressed my hated for the new video version. I am not aware of when I initially heard the instructions to put my own oxygen mask on first before attempting to be of assistance to others. I also have no idea when it became a common self-care saying in our culture. In my dream if oxygen masks had fallen from the ceiling of the bus I would have waited until I was sure everyone had one. My waiting and stepping aside would have killed me.  Time to stop waiting and to start reaching for what I want

7 comments to Waiting

  • Elena Berger

    I identify with this post so much. Waiting is my middle name (and my first… and my last)….

  • Cathy

    I am so grateful to have come across your blog.
    Beautiful, painful, insightful, arresting, inspirational.
    I do love you so.

  • Dear Marlene,

    All of your writings leave me speechless. You write of innermost feelings and I feel moved but mostly without words to respond. Have to hold what you write.

    However, the photo you have for “Waiting” remains inside me and I have returned to it over and over. I look at the knots, the interlocking knitting, the securing, the posts, the rust and then lo to the right hand side I believe I see an opening. I wonder if there is a gate or securing up where I cannot see it or maybe could I just walk on through a large opening. I leave the photo intrigued. Could I slip in sideways to the other side of the fence or just walk straight ahead or even run through an opening. Reminds me also of how difficult it is to go into a new way of living.

    Thankyou for your very thoughtful writings and photos, for your sharing.

    Love, Ann Garrett

    • Marlene

      Thank you Ann, I love the ambiguity of this photograph. The fence is chained but not chained shut or locked. As you noticed, the opening is there but simply difficult to see. Thank you for noticing!

  • Amy

    Marlene-I too relate to waiting. I am just now beginning to fill my days with things I want to do and although I waited until everyone was settled, I still get satisfaction from the fact that I have now stopped to think about what I wanted and to take action. You too, are taking action and really it is never to late. This is why we call them-life lessons. Your writing is beautiful and I enjoy reading it so much. I have added you to my links on my website and I hope more people will find your site and enjoy your prose. With love.

    • Marlene

      thank you amy,
      I appreciate you adding my blog as a link on your website and of course your support.
      I am happy to hear that you are taking action and doing what you want now. We can all be inspirations for each other. It truly is never too late.

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