With six hrs between flights and not much energy left, the last thing I wanted to do was walk or sit inside an airline terminal.
So I sat outside.
A single bench by one of the entrances was invitingly unoccupied, and a warm breeze chased away fumes belched by airport traffic. It was the perfect front row seat, from which there was surprisingly plenty to see.
There were the two big black birds perched atop a tree across the road, meticulously preening themselves; the spry little Chinese man delivering a big takeout box filled with (what looked like) a feast for four to a couple of airport employees who were trying in vain to look unenthused; the usual airport shuttles as well as a seemingly unofficial one – a minivan picking up Chinese passengers who appeared to be strangers to one another; a family of five emerging from a taxicab with the inevitable plethora of strollers, car seats and luggage (déjà vu!); and a bus driver who stood out from the rest, not so much because she was an efficient-looking young Latina with excellent posture and hair pulled neatly into a bun, but because she actually left the driver’s seat to help passengers unload their luggage.
But my favorite sight (and sound) by far was the young man with a guitar.
He was standing by the curb at first, calmly waiting for his ride. When the lady who had joined me on the other end of my bench left, he sat down, took out his guitar and began to play a couple of quiet happy tunes.
I enjoyed this unexpected and beautiful solo concert so much, I had to take this ultra short video clip (more audio really) – all of 7 seconds! – on the sly just to capture the moment. If you listen carefully, you can barely hear his expert strumming amidst the hum of traffic.
It seemed for all the world like he had just stepped off a plane with nothing else to do, patiently awaiting his ride home. And yet, as soon as an older gentleman pulled up (his father, no doubt), he dashed to the car window to retrieve something then immediately disappeared inside the terminal – surely to catch a flight.
Clearly, here was a young man who not only knew how to play the guitar and play it beautifully, but more so, who knew how to wait well.
Were we in his shoes, some of us may have frittered away the time looking down at our cellphone (and one he did have) or pacing back and forth nervously, craning our necks repeatedly as though expediting the car’s arrival with each anxious look. Worse, we might have spent the time cursing under our breath or mentally kicking ourselves for forgetting that all-important item.
In this day and age of immediate gratification, and in a society where practically every action is valued based on efficiency, outcome, or even the amount of effort involved, the act of waiting becomes almost unbearable.
Yet such a concept and attitude was alien to us, growing up back home.
Notorious for tardiness, Filipinos learn early on to accept waiting as a part of life. It was not unexpected for us to make eager plans to meet soon with a few friends, only to end up waiting (two hours was my longest wait) for one or more to arrive – under the blazing sun, no less! We had no cellphones then, so it was either wait or leave our friends behind. And with the latter option unacceptable to either party, we waited.
The tardy party was of course scolded good-naturedly upon arrival, but apparently to no effect, as evidenced by future occurrences of the same infraction. But all was easily forgiven and forgotten, once we took up the business (or – as was mostly the case – fun) at hand.
Perhaps that is how we learned to accept waiting as a part of life, these inevitable pauses in daily life that we nevertheless fully expected would bring – in the end – a good measure of joy or satisfaction worth waiting for.
Refusing to merely resign ourselves to it, we even embrace some of these periods of waiting, this kind of everyday advent, as opportunities for humor, song, feasting or just ordinary companionship. Some turn into prolonged celebrations, like the Philippines’ joyful four-month-long wait for Christmas, with celebrations starting way before the Advent season, encompassing all the “-ber” months from September onwards.
It is this attitude of hopeful expectation – even certainty – in some future worthwhile good that results in so much more than mere resignation to waiting. It deflects the focus from oneself towards something more uplifting, more meaningful, more important than one’s current discomfort (both internal and external) while waiting.
May we all seize these daily opportunities of waiting, of involuntary inaction, to forget ourselves and appreciate the good things around us we would otherwise miss – in nature, humor, good conversation, even food and music.
Perhaps in those moments, no matter the circumstance, we too will find ourselves helping others – as the young man did for me – not only endure but even enjoy our time of waiting.