Do you have any crazy holiday travel stories? Our family has a chest full. At Christmastime we typically trek back east to visit my parents and other relatives. The pandemic will force us to stay home this year, but we’ve been swapping memories of Christmases past, when we set off with high spirits, crossing our fingers against bad weather, bad highways, bad flights, and bad-tempered fellow travelers. If our wishes for good luck had always come true, we’d have only boring stories to tell.
For me, our most memorable Christmas trip dates to when our 18-year-old son Nathan was a tiny baby, only three months old. I flew with him cross-country to Kentucky, where my parents then lived. Jihong, my dear wizard of travel deals, had booked himself on a separate flight to save us money. He arrived in Kentucky on schedule. Lucky him.
I won’t bother you with the details of that nightmarish trip—the delays, the missed connections, the cancelled flights, the unmoving lines at ticket counters, the re-routings, the last-minute gate changes…. There I was, lugging Nathan through one airport after another, toting a heavy diaper bag over one shoulder and rolling a carry-on behind me.
In those days, we had no cellphones with which to re-book, to communicate, to distract and entertain. How time crawled! Hours of disappointment, confusion, frustration, and tedium drained my energies until I couldn’t think straight. My body ached from endless walking and standing, baby and gear in tow. I had no opportunity for a break. I couldn’t close my eyes even for a few minutes, lest I fall asleep. I had to keep my wits about me, for Nathan’s sake and my own.
In the middle of the night, I was in a throng of weary travelers near the departure gate in the latest airport I’d never expected to be in. I felt trapped in a horrible dream—surroundings surreal, senses distorted. Tired tears dribbled down my cheeks. I rocked Nathan back and forth, humming and singing in his ear, afraid I’d break down and weep. I needed food. I needed rest. I needed relief. All he needed was … me. But was I enough to get us through?
My exhaustion and distress must have shown, because that’s when a middle-aged woman standing nearby said, “Would you like me to take your baby awhile so you can rest your arms?”
Her question made all the difference. I surrendered. The brief respite that woman provided enabled me to face what remained of that long wait.
Eventually Nathan and I boarded our next plane. Eventually the sun came up again. Eventually we fell into the loving arms of Jihong and my parents, 24 hours late.
As I write this, we’re all approaching the winter solstice—the longest night in the longest, strangest year in memory. We’re in an immense time of waiting. We wait for the wheel of the seasons to turn; for light to lengthen our days again. We wait for holiday celebrations. We wait for vaccinations. We wait for post-pandemic reunions. We wait for recovery from disruptions and losses of every sort under heaven. We wait for discovery of what life will be like on the other side of Now.
No matter how tired we may feel, or how dark our night has become, we can’t rush the waiting. It will last as long as it lasts. So how do we endure it? How do we find the patience?
I’m no expert on this subject, believe me. But that long-ago Christmas journey began to teach me a few things about how to live through “the long wait”:
Watch anything but the clock (or the calendar). Keep yourself occupied. Give your attention to things that matter. Do small tasks mindfully. Immerse yourself in play. Hum and sing. The more you pour yourself into any activity, the less you’ll stew.
Embrace the long wait as just another part of your life. It might be inconvenient, grueling, or downright hellish, but it’s yours. Live it as best you can, even with tears dribbling down your cheeks.
Have faith in yourself. The long wait may create problems and doubts; it may excite fears and worries. You’re bigger than them all. You’re love in human form.
Accept (or ask for) help. A woman in an airport wants to hold your baby so you can rest. A friend asks to lift your spirits by Zoom. A neighbor volunteers to shovel your snow. A relative suggests dropping off a meal. Say yes to it all! You don’t have to wait alone.
Trust the big picture. The infinite web of this mysterious universe connects us all. Your waiting here might make all the difference there, preventing a tragedy or producing a miracle. Trust the possibility.
Remember that it will end. Even after the darkest, bleakest night, the sun always comes up again. How will you value your life in the meantime? “If you can wait and not be tired of waiting,” Rudyard Kipling says in his famous poem “If—”, “yours is the Earth and everything in it!”
Let Kipling’s words sink in: “If you can wait and not be tired of waiting.… yours is the Earth and everything in it.” Even here, in the deep night of what can only be endured, the shining world comes forth in glory to meet us. Blessed be the dark that prepares us to see!