For those of you just joining us, welcome back to The Waiting Room, a series of essays solicited from the team at Heather Elder Represents that share insightful and sometimes hilarious tales about a learning experience with the agony that can come with waiting — stories of learning, adjusting and sometimes even appreciating it.
It is my hope that as we all keep navigating through the unknowns, that you will feel inspired by, and even draw strength from them. We truly are all in this waiting room together!
Kate Chase, Creative Strategist, Guest Editor
Little Normal, Little Normal
By Sarah James, Creative Partner, Lupine Hammack Photography
Starting at the top of his head and ending with his feet, the long, dark fingers of the emergency room doctor carefully traced and checked every bone. I remember thinking she had beautiful hands, their capabilities seemingly a miracle. Over her shoulders, I could see him, my two-year-old son, Reed. His tears and cries, under normal circumstances hard for a mother to hear, were now excruciating, fervent declarations of life.
During our week-long stay, the days passed in a constant state of waiting; waiting for scan results, the brace specialist, waiting to be able to hold him again, waiting to take him home. I found myself in search of tools beyond what I had developed thus far. Meditation, nature soaking, walks, yoga, journaling; all were either not available or not enough.
After the first few days passed, I found myself drawn to the large windows that made up the east wall of our hospital room. In the afternoons while Reed napped I would sit on the hard green couch, our bed by night, and stare down at the shopping center across the street. People parking cars and walking in and out of the shops looked oddly small from my high perch, like little caricatures. I found their coming and going soothing to watch. Little, normal happenings. The tightness in my chest would begin to soften, the mental traffic would slow. When we returned home from the hospital I felt similar sensations looking around the house. Our cat waiting by his bowl, the boys’ trucks and buckets waiting for them in the dirt, little clothes in a hamper waiting to be washed. Little signs of the continuous nature of life.
Little, normal. This became my mantra.
Recently, on a project, that now feels like a lifetime ago, our team stood over a bed of just-planted bulbs. Shoulder to shoulder with a tall, thin farmer Lupine asked him, “How do you know the bulbs will take?”
“I don’t,” he replied. “waiting for the first sprouts to come up is always the most stressful part.” Looking up at him from the beds I realized that his gaze had wandered to the low, rounded foothills that surround the farmland. “It’s just a game of wait and see,” he said, flashing me a cheeky smile before returning to his work.
Waiting came into my life as an adversary, a ruthless intimidator. From where I stand today, after my experience in the hospital, learning how to wait feels like an unexpected gift. An invitation to trust in the continuous, steady nature of life. A farmer over his bulbs, a mother over her child, communities across the globe, we are all faced with periods of waiting. A bulb takes time to sprout, a body takes time to heal. Strength comes from trusting that amazing things are happening, even if they are hard to see in the moment.
The Patient Heart of The Ninja
By Doug Menuez, Artist
I was in Kyoto shooting a project about the masters of the ancient Japanese arts. My assistant, translator, and I removed our shoes and stepped into the entry hall of a 16th-century palace built by the emperor for his favorite concubine.
I was anxious to shoot this stunning, hidden world into which we’d been granted rare access. Everywhere I turned, I saw images calling to me. As a visitor to another culture, I knew I should wait until our host gave permission. But the light was perfect, and a man was raking the classic zen rock garden — exactly what I’d hoped to photograph.
His precise movements embodied his decades of patient devotion to achieve mastery of this exacting practice, handed down through generations over 1,000 years. I was churning with mixed emotions as I could see one great shot after another passing by, preserved only in memory.
My translator saw my discomfort and lifted her eyebrows in warning. So we stood there. Five minutes. Seven minutes. Ten. Oh my god, this was taking forever. Finally, we could see a middle-aged woman in a traditional kimono and clogs emerging from the shadows and walking toward us from the end of the long hallway.
She was moving at a steady pace, looking directly at me. As she got closer, her hand snapped out to pluck a single polished black stone off a long side table, seemingly at random. There must have been a hundred stones to choose from, all laid out geometrically along this table, yet she chose a particular stone.
As she reached us, we all bowed. Upon straightening, she dropped the stone into my hand. My translator told me to turn it over. On the back of the stone was a single kanji character painted in gold leaf. I looked at my translator. Leaning into my ear, she hissed,
I was so busted. I had to let go and trust things would work out as they usually do. Deep breaths. Of course, I’d learned these lessons before, but on that day, the discipline I had mastered was out of reach. Yet, somehow, I did manage to wait. That was the price to be paid for the images.
What followed was a purely joyful exploration of an extraordinary space in time, revealing an ancient cultural practice. I felt as if I’d harnessed my frustration into a powerful energy for creativity.
Later I looked up the definition of the two-part kanji character written on the stone. My translator had failed to share an alternate interpretation: “The patient heart of the Ninja.” Oh yeah, I could own that.
Turning Questions into Answers
By Jennifer Davick, Artist
I believe it was in high school when I fell wholly in love with the poetry of Rilke and his Letters to a Young Poet. During times of uncertainty, I call upon his 1903 letter to his protégé, a 19-year old cadet, on the importance of living the questions and embracing uncertainty. I read it out loud, and often. Followed by a slice of chocolate pie seems to help too.
Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.
Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
See you next Saturday with Chapter 13 from Taya Curtin with Oasis. Come join us in the waiting room!