We wait for fruit to ripen. We wait for our ship to come in. We sit in traffic. We wait for our loved ones to become more loving, to stop drinking, to come home. We wait in security lines. We wait and wait for a job offer. Nobody likes to wait, and sometimes it’s just torture. While waiting we tend to be completely focused on what we’re waiting for – for the snarl of traffic to end , for the sun to come out, for the habit to be kicked, for our luck to improve. It is natural to experience wait time as wasted time, and to feel that our lives are on hold until the waiting is over. However, it is possible to turn waiting into a dynamic and creative time, just the opposite of the frustration and apprehension that we normally associate with it. We can hum a tune familiar to us. We can remember things we used to wait for and now have, or now have learned to live without. Because we have no choice, we can really smell the flowers. We can breathe and write a poem in our head. We can practice being without doing. Amidst our national zeitgeist of immediate gratification, waiting can be a countercultural, even a radical act. And endurance really does built character, which in turn enables us to wait with a sense of expectation. When it comes to waiting, the means really can trump the ends.
The first day of school is almost here. Kindergartners are afraid they won’t be able to find the bathroom, that they might cry, or might not be able to get the straw into their juice box. Grade schoolers wonder if their friends will be in their class, or whether they got the nice or the mean teacher. Middle school is an especially difficult transition, and children entering middle school can spend the latter part of the summer worrying whether they’ll be able to manage their lockers. I find this especially poignant because I think taking 11 year-olds out of elementary school essentially locks them out of childhood well before its time. And then there’s the dog-eat-dog social world of most high schools, when peer pressure begins in earnest. While most kids come in contact with drugs, alcohol, and sex before 9th grade, both exposure and pressure to use then becomes relatively ubiquitous. Only ostrich parenting pretends otherwise. Entering college freshman must generally make the huge adjustment to living away from home, sometimes hundreds of miles away from home. We are pretty much the only culture that asks this of our 18 year- olds. And students themselves can assign higher status to schools which are farther away, no matter their academic reputation. Now of course the school years are also filled with adventure, friendships, and the excitement of growing. But it also truly behooves us to recognize the significant emotional adjustments children must make to get an education, and that they may be in especial need of support come September.
It’s time for the Summer Olympics, and it is a real treat watching so many athletic virtuosos gathered in one place. Olympians of course are there because they are the best; they are at the top of their game. Even so, occasionally an athlete will make a mistake, will underperform, will botch a routine. While I hate to see the heartbroken face of a young Olympian from any country, it does serve to remind us that even the best and the most talented among us can make mistakes. Winston Churchill defined success as the ability to go from failure to failure with enthusiasm. He knew what he was talking about. Other successful people who at one time experienced significant failures were Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jordan, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Thomas Edison. Our mistakes and failures are just as much a part of who we are as our achievements, and we should embrace them as such. To do less than that diminishes our humanity. And by doing so we give permission to those around us to do the same. To lie, betray, or demean others – these behaviors are wrong and are evidence of character defects. But mistakes, even those that are a result of carelessness, they are something quite different. If you make a mistake, try owning up to it immediately. You will be amazed at the personal and relational power that is set in motion if you do. And then tuck away your mistake for safe-keeping; what you have learned will come in handy next time.