On Waiting


When you own a store and you sit in it all day, it can feel like waiting for guests who didn’t know they were invited. It just feels like waiting. Of course so do most jobs, even jobs that are enjoyable or valuable. You’re waiting for your next break, or for your lunch, or for your shift to be over. We spend a lot of our lives waiting. Waiting’s not so bad, most of the time. It carries a sense of anticipation, and anticipation carries a sense of hope.

And this summer we discovered the best kind of waiting yet. We hung hummingbird feeders in our backyard, and every morning we would sit and wait for the birds to show up. We’d just sit and watch the plants grow and the garden turn greener and greener and we’d wait for the tomatoes to ripen and we’d wait for the hummingbirds to arrive. And they did. Every single day. Almost to a schedule. A hummingbird is a ridiculous thing. Too sweet, too pretty, too rare. Something nobody can really draw or paint without preciousness, and probably something nobody should try to write about. Seeing one feels like a gift or a blessing, to use an overused but completely apt word. And that’s just when they hover for a moment in your garden. When they land on a tree or a stake in your yard, when you start to recognize one from another, when they take on distinct personalities, when they hover close to your face as if they’re trying to tell you something, when they stay for a while in the glowing green twilight light of your perfect summer garden while you sit and breathe the dusty smoky air and drink the hummingbird-green chartreuse you got for your summer birthday. Well, that’s worth waiting for. That could bring tears to the eyes of a person less steely than myself. Of course the thing about a hummingbird is that she doesn’t announce herself. She’s not preceded by a fanfare, she makes no noise. You have to chance upon her, or you have to be watching. You have to wait with focus. And while you’re waiting, every faintly or fastly fluttering thing will attract your attention, and you’ll realize that they’re all pretty, too. The bugs and bees and bigger blundering birds,  the twisting falling leaves. And no matter how focussed and expectant you were, the hummingbird will always be a heart-bothering surprise, turning up out of nowhere. And even if she’s exactly where you were directing your focussed gaze, the space will feel buzzing new and strange, like a slice of another world.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this waiting and watching, I started wondering about the French word for wait, attender, and I became curious about the connection between waiting and attending. So I searched it up, as the boys would say, and here is my scholarly report. From various old languages, Old French, Old English, Old Latin, we have “To direct one’s mind or energies, to expect, wait for, pay attention.” “To stretch to or stretch towards” “To heed, take care of, protect.” I love them all! To stretch yourself towards the the thing you are hoping for and waiting for! I love that! And I love the sense of expecting, too, it’s one step beyond hoping. And I love the sense of protecting and caring for, which I suppose is from the “waiting-upon-someone” sense of the word; dancing attendance, as the Williams Shakespeare and Yeats might phrase it. But mostly I love the heeding and the directing of energies and the paying attention. I love the idea that we’re not just killing time, waiting, we’re heedful, we’re attentive. We should wait for everything the way we wait for hummingbirds, keenly, and we should notice everything else that happens while we’re waiting with the same keen attention. We should stretch ourselves towards the thing we anticipate and expect, and we should notice every beautiful thing that flies by us as we’re waiting. And then we should stop writing about hummingbirds, because nobody should try to write about hummingbirds.

On a side note: I had a recipe to go with this, but honestly, I haven’t had time to write it all down, it’s not a recipe I feel happy about, and I’m tired of pretending this is a food blog, which it hasn’t been for several years. I’m not saying there will be no more recipes, but there won’t always be recipes.

There will always be songs though! Here’s Bob Marley and the Wailers with I’m Still Waiting.




14 thoughts on “On Waiting

  1. I’d never try to write about hummingbirds either, but feel like I understand them a little better now. They are a blessing. And so is your writing. I’m hooked!

  2. Claire, I am such a fan of you and your writing. I pass you on the street and I want to gush to you about how much I appreciate your blog and the way you write, but I feel star struck so I just smile and pass. And this essay about hummingbirds was beautiful…and we don’t need a recipe every time. Just when you feel like it fits.

  3. I am glad you wrote of waiting. I am glad you have hummingbird regulars come to call. And glad you write about them. Your words are my lullaby tonight. Thanks. Chartreuse cheers.

      • Jewel Weed is in Bloom. I think they like that.

        I have not seen one , but one day I heard a sound zoom by my head in the buzz-frequency only a hummingbird’s wings can sing.

      • We had a hummingbird in our jewel weed this morning, the same jewel weed we got from your garden years ago! It’s doing really well.

  4. Re-reading Pride and Prejudice and your essay fit right in with the waiting and the heeding and all the attending by the Bennet sisters….always amazed at how Austen creates so beautifully scenes where so little happens but so much really does for each of the players….thanks, Claire! Miss your wise thoughts….happy rest of the summer…..

    • It’s funny, I just re-read Pride and Prejudice, too. Trying to figure out how it remains such a page-turner when really not all that much happens! And I suppose for women of the time waiting was their only option, there weren’t a lot of actions they could take. Have a lovely August!

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