Friday, January 27, 2012

“The Art of Waiting”

         Punctual people spend a lot of time waiting. I haven’t figured out yet why doctor’s offices and dental office receptionists state firmly, “Arrive ten to fifteen minutes before your appointment” when they know the schedule consistently runs at least half-an-hour late. Because I don’t want to be the cause of any inconvenience, I arrive promptly at the assigned moment where I then sit and wait for almost an hour.
         Punctual people wait on friends and family. We arrive at the time designated on the invitation for a party and end up setting up tables, icing birthday cakes, or running a vacuum as the host and hostess (known for their lackadaisical approach to everything) takes a quick shower. They always look bemused as they ask, “Would you mind?” Although tempted to say, “Yes. I’m a guest, not a maid,” I’ve always bit my tongue and pitched in to get the final preparations complete for the guests who arrive “fashionably late.”
         Punctual people arrive at mandatory meetings and get the choice seats because the room waits in emptiness. I always hated the principal who delayed starting a meeting until the majority of the faculty sauntered into the cafeteria or library. My favorite administrator demanded butts in seats at a certain time, started her meetings at precisely that second, and had another administrator note down who strolled in late. Many of my peers hated her approach because they felt she wasn’t treating them with “respect.” I never could figure out how coming to a meeting five or ten minutes late (or later) should call for anything other than a reprimand.
         Punctual people learn coping strategies quickly. My husband, the only punctual child in his family, spent plenty of time sitting in the car while he waited for the rest of his family to show up. He sang songs to himself, wrote lyrics in his head, and perfected his daydreaming technique. I’m certain this practice makes him a better artist today. Once I knew which friends or family members dallied, I learned to bring along a book. I don’t know how many times I’ve pulled up in front of someone’s house, on time, and had to wait. By escaping into a paperback, I turn a possibly stressful situation into something pleasurable.
         Punctual people find other punctual people. It doesn’t take long for someone like me to cultivate friendships with other people who respect time. I realize that people who run late can be on time when it’s important to them. Once I know that their tardiness is a general disrespect that they hold towards other people, I give myself permission to pull away from these individuals. When I discover that a person even uses time as a means of controlling and manipulating me, I begin avoiding invitations or events with this person.
         Punctual people call on the rare events when we do run late. At work, I’d email my administrator if I had a conflict with her meeting with the specific reason for my tardiness. If I’m running late to rendezvous with a friend for drinks or dinner, I call or text immediately and give an accurate ETA. If I get stuck in traffic, the electricity goes out, or the dog throws up on my outfit, I take a moment out of my time to notify the person who will end up waiting on me. I cannot even begin to count the number of times someone hasn’t shown up at the appointed time and not bothered to call. I’d like the option of saying, “Hey, let’s just forget it! Maybe we’ll get together another day.” Instead, I find myself sitting on the edge of the couch in my Sunday best waiting, waiting, waiting.
         Punctual people get labeled as “Type A” and uptight, but in reality we simply have manners. We’re able to put the needs of others first. We respect their time as well as our own.

Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman


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