Saturday, October 15, 2011

Gratefully waiting

"Instant gratification is never soon enough."
-Meryl Streep

Last night I got into an abnormally long line to wait for a DC headed Megabus, just to find that traffic delays in New York City were making the running vehicles very late.

The people standing around me in line buzzed with chatter about the delays. I watched one young man approach one of the waiting workers and ask her for a number for customer service, so he could complain. She gave him the number, but warned him that their satisfaction department could not change the traffic pattern. He angrily stormed away.

Many others complained about their wait time of an hour or more, of the engagements they would be missing, and of how terrible it was to be stuck outside. Some glared angrily around at the workers, while others pouted quietly. A general unity seemed to form around the lines, as if the ridiculousness of the situation was a bonding factor between the heated personalities.

I watched quietly, considering the true craziness of the bus situation in my head. True, the bus had assigned me an appointed time that I had scheduled against. Yes, it was getting a little chilly, and my bag was starting to leave a small imprint on my shoulder. Yes, my shoes were a little wet from standing on the water soaked pavement that serves as a loading zone.

But the traffic patterns are out of anyones control. And I payed a very small fee to be able to ride in the first place, a fact for which I was very grateful, considering the short notice of the trip. In fact, I was happy to be able to be going at all, and a bus that was falling behind hardly seemed to a reason for an uprising.

More and more, I find that people today are not happy to have to wait for things. Lines are something that stores are trying to eliminate. Shipping gets faster and faster. Businesses open earlier and close later then they have in the past. Halloween shopping starts in September, and Christmas shopping starts the day after Halloween. The whole world is impatient to get what it is they want. They are more than anxious- they are demanding.

It's bad practice, of course, because the things in life that most matter do not work on a human time table. We do not control when it rains and when the sun shines. We do not choose when to fall in love and when to be done with it. We do not get to pick when we are born or when we will die. Many big factors are out of our control.

Maybe this is what causes people to make such demands of the inconsequential. Maybe we are all just afraid that since we don't get to choose the timing on the big things, if we can get the little things done, we will come out ahead. Maybe the control factor causes us to lose our patience when life slows us down, because we can slowly feel it being pulled away from us.

Whatever it is, it's catchy. First a few people complain, and then a few more jump in, and then a few more jump in, until everyone is tense. Even those of us in line who weren't complaining felt tense and cross when getting into our seats, causing everyone to jump at the driver when a few hours later, he informed us that he'd hit his driving limit and needed to switch with someone else.

Looking back, the situation almost seems comical, but it actually makes me sad. Waiting in line last night didn't have to be such a dramatic event- the weather was a little rainy and cold, but it wasn't a terrible night to be outside. Yes, the bus arrived late, but the seats were comfortable, and everyone had a nice trip to relax. And all destinations were eventually met, for less then it costs to go out for a nice dinner. There was a lot to be thankful for. And yet the general attitude was negative, a reflection that will likely cause the company to lose business and have to address the complaints of impatient people.

And I can't help but think that maybe we've got it all wrong. Maybe the opposite of impatience isn't patience- maybe it's gratefullness.

Last night I saw what I don't want to be. No more impatience- from now on I'm going to try being grateful for what I'm given, even if I have to wait for it. Because I know that if I don't get my act together now, one day I'll be the kind of person who throws a tantrum about traffic. And really, in a life that's already based on uncertain timing, there can't be a greater waste than that.

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