The Meaning is in the Waiting

The Meaning is in the Waiting

by Aaron Brown July 24, 2018 9 Comments

In one of my classes each spring, we read Jorge Luis Borges’s essay “Blindness”—a brilliant meditation on the difficult gifts that blindness gave Borges. What some may call an inconvenience, Borges calls “a way of life” in which the blindness does not “intimidate me” nor is it a “total misfortune.” Rather, Borges credits his blindness as a necessary step toward him maturing as a poet and reader. Though his physical sight was lost, he gained a different way of seeing.

I’m reminded of Milton, whose greatest contribution to literature, Paradise Lost, was composed entirely after Milton became blind. Borges thinks of Milton, too, who “sacrificed his sight” before he “remembered his first desire, that of being a poet.”

Milton’s sonnet, “When I Consider How My Light is Spent,” is one of my favorite poems. In the poem, the speaker wrestles with an inability to follow a divine call, a “Talent... Lodged within me useless.” Due to his blindness, Milton feels unused and inept, but as the poem progresses we see a transformation in the speaker. Rather than “work” or “gifts,” God instead wants followers who “best / Bear his mild yoke,” who live with a burden, yes, but a burden that isn’t as heavy as we perceive. A burden that is, in fact, opportunity.

Then, that final, arresting line: “They also serve who only stand and wait.” The speaker is made mute, in a sense, before a divine voice that chides him for feeling as if he has nothing to offer.

In class, I had my students wrestle with the way these poets depict disability—an inconvenience, perhaps, but a space in which the person can be active rather than passive. A disability to the point of gift. As all teachers do, I had my students contemplate a question I selfishly wanted answered: how difficulty can somehow be a gift rather than a curse.

Whether we have disabilities or difficult seasons of loss, doubt, grief, depression or some other affliction, we all know that winter feeling, that “circumstance of ice,” as poet Danielle Chapman puts it. It is difficult to find a “gift” in these circumstances, and yet there is a kind of power in the waiting, in the wilderness.

I think of the Welsh poet-priest, R.S. Thomas, who hovers in a space of seeming nothingness in his poem “Kneeling.” The speaker kneels at the altar “waiting for the God / to speak,” just as his audience, the “close throng / of spirits” is “waiting, as I, for the message.” Interestingly, the speaker, the priest, waiting for his message to come from on high, asks God to not give it to him just yet. He knows “something is lost” in the translation, in voicing the message of God. Rather, on his knees, at the silent altar, the speaker realizes “the meaning is in the waiting.” His mind is stilled—he is not asked to do anything but be.

I’ve always thought of waiting as a passive thing. As a sign of inefficiency, uselessness, the lack of any sense of calling or progress. Waiting before a blank page, waiting to fall asleep when my mind is racing. But what if waiting is a space we are led into, difficult as it might be? What if waiting is a lens, through which we actively engage with the world? Waiting goes against the sense of busyness that pervades our culture: that we must always be accomplishing something, that pressing pause on life should bring a wave of anxiety. But as these poets remind us, can’t waiting be a way of seeing?

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We're pleased to be giving away a copy of Aaron Brown's book, Acacia Road (Silverfish Review Press), to one of our readers. Write a comment below, and we'll pick a name and notify the winner on Wednesday, July 31.  

Congratulations to Sara who will receive a copy of Acacia Road by Aaron Brown! 




Aaron Brown
Aaron Brown

Author

In addition to having work previously in Ruminate, Aaron Brown has been published in Transition, Tupelo Quarterly, Portland Review, and Cimarron Review, among others. He is the author of Winnower (Wipf & Stock, 2013) and is a Pushcart Prize nominee. An MFA graduate from the University of Maryland, Aaron lives with his wife Melinda in Sterling, Kansas, where he is an assistant professor of writing and editing at Sterling College. More can be found at www.aaronbrownwriter.com



9 Responses

Danielle
Danielle

July 26, 2018

I love the concept of waiting being more active and as ”a space we are led into” no matter how difficult. I’m
definitely ruminating on changing my view of waiting into a positive experience.

sid woods
sid woods

July 26, 2018

The yin of receptivity is too often perceived as passive, i think. So much like the common misconception that the speaker is the only active side of a conversation, forgetting the importance of listening, of listeners, who create that negative space for stories to unfold. In the same way, waiting for the universe, for voices from the universe, to share stories when i am in creative writing mode doesn’t feel passive at all. i am actively opening myself, in ways both conscious and still unconscious, to larger wisdoms and experiences than the little me i am accustomed to in my body and my memories could ever access if i just forced myself to “write something.” Yes, Aaron, i love the idea that “there is a kind of power in the waiting, in the wilderness.”

Maria Picone
Maria Picone

July 26, 2018

Thank you for this powerful and moving essay on disability, poetry, and the grace of waiting. I needed this reminder today.

Sara
Sara

July 26, 2018

Thank you for writing this, Aaron. (And thank you, too, Michelle, for your thought-provoking comment.) I really appreciate your poignant invitation to see the world anew in a season of waiting. A dear friend and I were just discussing this topic today over coffee—as millennials, we were painfully aware of the calls to “do, do, do” in the world and are collectively wondering how to remain faithful to the specific callings and talents in our lives while we know we’ve been told to wait. Thank you for a refreshing perspective—I can’t wait to share this article with her!

Satyam Sikha Moorty
Satyam Sikha Moorty

July 25, 2018

The whole write up on ‘waiting’ essentially reflects my long life as also thoughts on difficulty’ abd ‘blindness.’ I am reminded of a line from Shakespeare’s “s You Like It,” in which Duke Senior cheerfully admonishes his followers and courtiers..“sweet are the uses of adversity.” I am also reminded of the 5th C BC Greek playwright Aeschylus: “Suffering makes a man wise.” Some nobles thoughts to bear in mind while is in distress. I waited more than a decade to get into a profession that I loved—teaching. What a fulfilling experience and a noble call!!!

Caroline Siegrist
Caroline Siegrist

July 25, 2018

This is exactly what I needed to read this morning. I struggle with the feeling that parenthood—changing diapers, cleaning up messes—isn’t using my “real” gifts and that I’m just waiting for until this stage is over to be productive again. But this really encouraged me. Thank you, Aaron!

Ceci Ford
Ceci Ford

July 25, 2018

So much waiting as a child, growing to loathe my parents’ long goodbyes at the ends of evenings at friends’ homes. And then waiting while the car’s tires were getting changed, sigh. I loathed the smell of tire shops. Waiting. Aaron Brown’s essay helps me wonder about the expression “waiting” …does it point to open-handed prayer? meditation? simply (but oh so agonizingly) learning to be with what I habitually avoid, discomfort, confusion.
Thank you.

michelle
michelle

July 25, 2018

Aaron, I know those waiting places well. Even now, I know I’ve been led into waiting because it’s the only space with room enough for flourishing humility and gentleness, patience and wisdom. Sigh. But the assurance is just as you say – I will see what had never before been clear. Thanks for your thoughts today.

Madeline Twooney
Madeline Twooney

July 24, 2018

Such a lovely, thoughtful article Aaron! The seasons l have waited, l have tried to see what God wants to do in my life. It hasn’t always been easy, but it comforts me to know He has a great plan for all of us.

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