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Waiting can be prickly...but it doesn't have to be

There's been a construction project going on outside of our neighborhood for what seems like months. It's difficult to tell what's actually going on because there is an enormous pipe laying on one side of the two-lane road and it's unclear where the pipe is going to go or how it's going to get there. Traffic is narrowed down to one lane in this area. It is not typically a "busy" street but it's easier to see how many people use the road when cars start backing up.

It's funny how hard it is to wait, isn't it? Especially when we have no idea how long we'll be waiting. I'm aware of the tension in my body, physically, as I sit at this place day after day, waiting for my turn to go forward. So hard to sit and do nothing. So difficult to pause and just be, especially after my Instagram feed is still caught up since looking at it three seconds ago. And I'm nowhere near as busy as I used to be when I had a life that I scheduled down to the minute. Literally. Being in the present, enjoying the moment, have become much higher on my priority list and yet, even now, I'm still about efficiency. I plan all the things that take me away from home in a tight sequence so that I don't have to go in and out of the car, back and forth from town, etc. I like having my public time all at once so I can get back to my personal time at home. I am not good at waiting. For anything. I am also notoriously late. This is not because I believe my time is more important than others' time. A punctual friend once told me that's what it meant when someone was late and I always think about it now, but it doesn't change my behavior. It's not because I am not aware of the time. It's not because I don't care if I'm late. It's because I always try to squeeze in one more thing before I head out and also because I am a very poor calculator of how long it will take me to do what I have to do before I get to my next destination.

This past week was unseasonably warm in North Carolina. In fact, a record high was broken on Thursday for reaching 80 degrees in February in Chapel Hill! When I forget about the deep concerns I share about global warming, I really capitalize on warm, sunny days to break up the winter. I was sitting at the stop sign at the construction site and I didn't mind waiting because I was not in a hurry and it was so beautiful. I could see the blue sky and the way the pine trees reached high, waving in the breeze. I noticed the woman who was holding the traffic sign in one hand and a cigarette in the other. We smiled at each other. I felt so joyful for her that she, too, could be rewarded by the unexpected weather. I wondered what she was thinking about, how she was passing the time. Was she in a state of flow? Did she have access to music or a podcast? I didn't see a cell phone. How did she get through the day, waiting for the instructions to twirl the sign from Stop to Slow?

Overnight Friday, the temperature plummeted to 40 degrees. I left home slightly earlier for my routine Saturday morning yoga class, acknowledging my tendency to run late, knowing the class was getting more popular and I might not find a spot, remembering the construction project that might delay me further. I was thrilled when I saw the road was clear and none of the workers were out today. "Oh right, it's Saturday." But after I got my namaste on, I drove home and saw construction was actually underway again. I came to a stop and saw the same woman holding the traffic sign. I saw that she was bundled up in layers, wearing a hat and hood. She didn't have a cigarette this time. I tried to make eye contact, to give her a smile or a wave but she didn't look. I thought about how cold I was in my car and how hard I find it to be patient. I wondered what she did to pass the time, when it wasn't sunny, when she had to work on a cold Saturday in February, for how many more Saturdays until this darn project was finished. I wondered what her responsibilities were that justified her working today, what kept her from calling in sick, what she needed the money for, what her life was like. I thought about the fact that both of us were here at this same place and time, having completely different days, both of us waiting.

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