Harry: So why don’t you tell me the story of your life.
Sally: The story of my life?
Harry: We got 18 hours to kill before we hit New York.
Sally: The story of my life isn’t even gonna get us out of Chicago; I mean, nothing’s happened to me yet. That’s why I’m going to New York.
Harry: So something will happen to you?
(From When Harry Met Sally)
We spend the majority of our lives waiting.
Waiting for our ship to come in, for that call after the job interview, for the day we turn 16, for a driver’s license, for the labor to begin, for the baby to arrive, for enough time, for Friday, for our next vacation, for our lives to begin, even for our lives to end.
We wait in line. We wait for the waitress to refill the water glass. We wait for our real purpose to reveal itself. We wait.
Waiting is intrinsic to being human, to living. Sometimes we are active, working or developing or studying or traveling. Sometimes we employ busy-ness to make the passing time bearable. Sometimes, we can only sit and wait: for the bones to heal, the medication to work, sleep to come or that final breath to slip into the atmosphere.
But as much as waiting is indivisible from living, so is hoping.
At an Ethiopian orphanage, a woman sat holding her baby, her toddler at her side.
They waited outside the gate.
They were beautiful people. Broad smiles, smooth chocolate skin, perfect bone structure. Their clothes were a monochromatic shade of dirt-smeared brown.
I don’t know what that mother waited for, but when she saw me, she offered me her baby. For keeps.
I looked at this marvelous, little life. Beneath the ragged wrappings, he was a perfect baby. All the fingers and toes were present and countable; his black hair wound in soft coils on his small head; deep, soulful eyes stared up at me.
Was she waiting for me? Was she waiting for anyone in particular? Why would she hold out the life of her womb to a stranger?
Because for this woman, the only option was hope.
But, of course, I was not her option or the fulfillment of her wishes that her children might have a different life than the one she gave them outside the orphanage door. I was just a visitor. I took her hand and placed the child’s hand within hers, wordlessly trying to communicate: you are this little one’s mother, not me.
But her waiting, her smiling, her hoping for something else while sitting in the dust….It haunts.
And I wonder at the poverty that inspires a mother to offer her own child to the rich-looking white woman at the gate in exchange for a hope fulfilled. Waiting and hoping. As much as I know the dance so well, I know so little of it: the desperate hope, the breathless wait, the dream of a promise fulfilled.
And sometimes I can’t make sense of this waiting place, this planet spinning on an axis of hope. At Christmastime the conflict rises like a lump in my throat.
I read the old story of the Little Match Girl or Dicken’s tale of that spiritually impoverished rich man named Ebenezer Scrooge; I read Luke 2 and A Visit From St. Nicholas. I decorate and bake and give a little more to charities. I try not to complain (or balk) at the commercialism and excess and stress of the holiday season. I shop the sales and deck the halls, sing carols and snuggle on the couch with cocoa and Hallmark movies and my children. And I love the whole of it.
But I need to go and wait at the gate. I need to hold out that which is most precious to me as an offering and hope– breathlessly hope–for the Promise Fulfilled to arrive, to lift me up from the dust of here and now (even if it sparkles with glitter) and show me Real Life: a life of wait-less-ness, weightlessness, unburdened by the brokenness of the sin and unshackled of the wait of which I’m so familiar.
So God, please take me there, to the gate. Give me eyes that look, gaze upon the horizon for your arrival. Be my Great Hope. Be my Vision. Be The Story of My Life. Amen.
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:18