One of my favorite children’s books of all time is Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go. As a young starry eyed lad, this book reinforced any ideas I had that I could be someone and make my mark on the world. At one point I had the whole thing memorized, and while those days are long gone (I maybe can still recite a few lines), there’s one part of the book that always stood out to me because of how starkly it contrasted with the book’s tone as a whole; “The Waiting Place,” for people just waiting… waiting for a train to go or a bus to come or a plane to go, or the mail to come, or the rain to go… etc etc. The way I interpreted it as a kid was, if you want to make something of yourself you can’t just wait around, you have to take action and just go!
While I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment, I think we as a society, myself especially included, have taken this to unintentionally harmful extremes. Today it can feel like there’s pressure to always be doing something. A moment waiting is a moment wasted. When I’m eating lunch, I gotta be watching something or doing flashcards. If I’m in a lecture I have to multitask and write emails while I’m listening. If I finished a task early have some downtime I need to read that journal article about diabetes. If I’m stuck in a line I’ll scroll my phone desperately trying to find something to occupy my mind so I don’t have to deal with the existential dread or anxiety that comes with standing in silence with my thoughts. On the other end of this, if you’re anything like me, sometimes thinking of all the stuff I could and should be doing is paralyzing and I end up filling my time with unproductive things like video games to stay “stimulated” and feel like I am doing something.
The Waiting Place is empty, which if you’re familiar with Dr. Seuss’s version, would seem like a good thing. People are on the go! Taking action! Carpe Diem-ing! But is that really the case, or are we just making our brains feel that way? And even if people these days are being more pro-active, what’s wrong with a little waiting every now and then?
This is reminder to myself that it’s ok to be idle and to be silent. No that doesn’t include watching YouTube videos or scrolling through Instagram. It means savoring the moment, listening to things going around me and to myself, reflecting, being patient. Thinking back, the Waiting Place actually sounds kinda peaceful.