Saturday, May 18, 2013

Linda Waits, Kim Waits, Tom Waits. Hold On.

So ... yesterday I wrote about a long day wasted in the waiting room of a surgical clinic. Today I want to talk about the difference between waiting and a similar but more intense state of existence: holding on. Waiting seems to me to be a benign, passive condition, requiring nothing more of us than to be patient while a long line creeps forward or a boring lecturer babbles on. Holding on is like waiting turned up to 11, hanging in there when your stress level is so high you can barely move, and your fate depends on your staying power.

Kim and I waited while seated in fairly comfortable chairs at the surgical clinic. If, instead, we'd been sitting in a leaky boat with sharks circling in the water below us, our comfort level would have zeroed out, and waiting would no longer have been a viable option; we'd have had to escalate all the way up the scale to holding on. And bailing. Never overlook the importance of bailing.

"Take one day at a time," people tell us. "Hang in there." "Wait and see." All of that is good advice, because sometimes conditions do change from one day to the next. Sometimes we change. So, yes, there are times when all we can do is hold on, and if that's all we can do, then we have to do at least that.

Sometimes things can't be changed. I'm thinking now of the Serenity Prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change ... " There's nothing serene about holding on, and it may take a lot of holding on before one settles down into patience, then finally, if we practice enough, into acceptance and serenity. Serenity is a good place to live.

Then there's the second line of that prayer: " ... the courage to change the things I can . . ." That's harder, don't you think? I lack courage, so I'm a lot better at waiting and holding on than I am at changing things, even though I know that changing some things is every bit as important as accepting others. Bailing water out of a leaky boat is a good example of changing things. If you're in a leaky boat, serenity is not your friend.

The last part of the prayer, the part about "the wisdom to know the difference" (between things that can be changed and those that must be accepted) is tricky. Wisdom can definitely help us decide which things fit which category, but not if we don't even bother to ask ourselves the question: "Can I change this?" There have been times in my life when I've gotten so bogged down in the holding-on process that I haven't even considered whether or not I could do something to change the situation. I couldn't, of course -- not until I asked the question. Then, sometimes, I discovered I could. And did.

I suppose, while we're on this subject, we should at least acknowledge that there's a different kind of holding on, the kind in which we attach ourselves to people or things or beliefs or perceptions that hold us back and keep us from being our best selves. That kind of holding on isn't healthy. The remedy for it is letting go, another useful concept in our psychological toolbox.

So, in addition to praying for the wisdom to know which things can be changed and which can't, we might also need to ask for help in figuring out which kind of holding on we're doing in any given set of circumstances. It gets confusing, doesn't it?


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What prompted such a serious post on this beautiful spring day? Today's Saturday Song Selection did. It's one I've liked for a long time:


The song is "Hold On" by Tom Waits.
Thanks to Epitaph Records for posting the video on YouTube.
Click here to read the lyrics.

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