Being Present in the Waiting Room

waitingI love taking my daughter to her fiddle lessons. They’re held in an old two-story house downtown, each room of the house having been converted into an instruction space for a different instrument. Guitar lessons are at the back of the house in what used to be the kitchen, and the drum kit is set up at the front behind two (acoustically insulated) French doors in what once was the living room. What was the upstairs bedroom at the front of the house is now dedicated to piano and voice lessons, the middle bedroom is for the electric guitar, and the back bedroom is devoted to those learning the fiddle and banjo. One room upstairs is set up as a waiting room, lined with folding chairs and furnished with books, toys, and one ancient green velvet armchair that welcomes me each week. And every Tuesday evening for exactly one-half hour, I get to sit in that green velvet chair, tune out the sound of five or six lessons of dissimilar instruments going on all at once, and read my book, totally guilt-free.

Recently though, the adult student whose fiddle lesson immediately follows my daughter’s has been arriving extra early. He sits across from me in the waiting room and begins to make conversation, despite the fact that I’m noticeably engrossed in the open book on my lap. I always have two choices. I could smile thinly, nod half-heartedly, and then plunge back into the pages of my book, making the most of the small amount of time in my schedule that I have to read. Or I could close the book.

Each week it’s a challenge to sacrifice the little free time I have to read. Part of me longs to get lost in fourteenth-century Norway with Kristin Lavransdatter, or the harsh environment of Antarctica with the crew of the Endurance. But part of me knows that I am called to be present in this little waiting room.

“Live in the present moment” may be a modern proverb, but it’s a decidedly Christian theme. The saints spoke of it: Venerable Fulton J. Sheen tells us that “all unhappiness comes from excessive concentration on the past or from extreme preoccupation with the future”, and St. Faustina wrote a whole poetic prayer dedicated to the idea that since the future is frighteningly uncertain and the past cannot be changed, “only the present moment is precious” and belongs to us, “whole and entire.” In fact, it was Christ Himself who advised his disciples not to be anxious about tomorrow, but to “let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day” (Matthew 6:34).

But what strikes me even more than living in the present moment, as I sit in this little waiting room surrounded by music, is the idea of living in the present place, of being willing to engage with those with whom I occupy space. So often I’m too eager to lose myself in something else – my book, my thoughts, and especially my phone – that I become unaware of my surroundings and, perhaps, the people that God has placed before me. In the dentist’s waiting room, at soccer practice, even in the checkout line, I’m all too eager to whip out my phone to pass the minutes, immediately removing myself from the discomfort of waiting, of being briefly bored, of being momentarily idle, or of having to make small talk. In doing this, I withdraw from the space that I share with my fellow patients/parents/customers and create my own little, locked room in which I am alone and comfortable.

Every week, the fiddle student comes into the waiting room and knocks on the door of this little, locked room I’ve created. He’s always eager to talk, and over the past year, I’ve begun to look forward to our 15-minute conversations before my daughter’s lessons ends and his begins. Now, when I hear his footsteps coming up the stairs, I happily close my book, I look up, smile, and return to the space where God has placed me for the moment. “If God wishes this to be, let it be,” says John Chrysostom, “If He wishes me to be here, I give thanks to Him. I give thanks to wherever His will I should be.”

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About Holly Gustafson

Holly lives with her husband, James, and their five children in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. She received her Masters in Linguistics at the University of Manitoba and now pursues her love of language through art, writing, public speaking, and unsolicited grammatical advice. Her favorite show is always the one she’s currently watching, and her favorite saint is always the one she’s currently reading. The best advice she ever received was from her spiritual friend, St. Faustina, who told her that when in doubt, “Always ask Love. It advises best.”
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