I often think about two girls portrayed in two different poems. Different, but the same. Same same, but different. The two poems run together in my head. The imageries intertwine and blur, the colors blend and shift, light and shadows, morning and dusk. One girl wakes at dawn and carefully combs her hair, trims her eyebrows, reddens her lips, then gathers her skirts and climbs up the steps to a pagoda that stands beside a river. She looks into the distance, into the horizon, where a solitary sail is appearing, first a black dot, then with wings like a bird, and finally the shape of a boat. She licks her lips and thinks to herself, today is the day. Today must be the day. She waits as the boat docks, as men disembark, searching for a familiar silhouette, a well-remembered springiness of steps, a fond set of shoulders. And then, with the softest of sighs, so soft that even the air around her isn’t disturbed, but so heavy she seemed to be enveloped by it, she lifts her eyes to the horizon again. To the new black dot that’s just appearing. Hope. One thousand hopes. One thousand fluttering of the heart. One thousand butterflies in her stomach. One thousand sails.
Another girl sits behind an open window in a wooden chair as it’s nearing dusk. Out the windows she can see a cobbled street, wet from the drizzling rain that spatters right into her heart. Her face is exquisite, perfect in every detail. Her body wrapped in silk, elegant, attentive. She hears it first. The clip-clop of horse-shoes on stone road. Like grand music accompanied by the pitter-patter of the rain on the roof. She imagines the rider. That familiar heart-warming smile that can brighten up this grey day, strong arms on the rein that are capable of so much, especially a strong, warm, enveloping hug. She imagines his face, a little bit more lined than she remembered, weary, but glad, oh so glad, to be home at last. She waits and waits as the horse draws nearer, the hooves now stomping on her heart, making its rhythm irregular. And finally, the rider turns the corner. Her body sags, she sits back. Man and horse walk past. Neither of them looked through the window. Another mistake. Another beautiful, but so terribly sad, mistake.
And so I paint pictures of them in my head. One woman turned to a rock on the pagoda. A girl-rock. Marking her spot forever by the side of the river, as she waits. The other aged by the window. Wrinkles lined her exquisite face, her black silken hair dried and turned wispy and grey. But her ears are sharp as ever.
These women, with their pose of waiting, break my heart. Because I often find myself in the same position, with the same pose, sharing the same dreams, shouldering the same disappointments. As time speeds by, and 2014 peeks curiously around the corner, another year, another 365 days, 8765 hours, have been spent in waiting. At the oddest moments, I’d look around me, surprised to find myself where I am, and believe, for the teeniest fraction of a second, that I’m stuck, permanently stuck, in the Waiting Place in Dr. Seuss’ land, “…Waiting for the fish to bite, or waiting for wind to fly a kite, or waiting around for Friday night, or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake, or a pot to boil, or a Better Break, or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants, or a wig with curls, or Another Chance…” Forever just waiting…
Sometimes I’d wonder if I’d have had the courage to start this relationship if I’d known there’d be so much waiting. I believe the word “wait” means something different to a man and a woman. A man thinks of the passing of seasons, the stretching of time, and they rejoice in a certain glorious promise that there is going to be, despite all difficulties, an end. Surely that’s what the word “wait” implies, that there is something we are waiting for. And if we’re patient enough, and good enough, in the end that “something” will break forth in all its magnificent beauty and the persevering waiter is rewarded. But to a woman, “waiting” is not that simple. In fact, it is pure agony. The process is dark and stormy and filled with uncertainties and concerns. It chisels away at the soul. The heart isn’t broken, not exactly. It’s nothing as neat as snapping the heart in half, because love, and waiting, was never only about hearts anyway. It’s also about mind and lungs and guts. It’s the thoughts that can’t be controlled, the constriction of air when a familiar shape is in sight, and the wrenching of the guts when realization hits that it was all imagined after all. We get it from generations of mothers who have sat on the doorstep and waited for their sons, from generations of wives who busied themselves with the present while their minds wandered afar… Women can endure waiting all right. It seems to be their divine gift, and also their divine punishment.
As I dwell on these women I think of myself. It’s hard to describe the state I’ve been in for the past week. Not quite depression. There was too much festivity in the air, and I was surrounded by too many friends. Not quite hopelessness. No, that would be a sin, especially at Thanksgiving, when one is supposed to count one’s blessings. More like uncertainty… or maybe doubt… Unpleasant thoughts bind me like vipers. “What if’s” and “How come’s” hang heavy on my mind. In desperation I have sought solace in prayer. And God had said, as clear as if He’d shot the message straight into my mind, “My child, perhaps you have been waiting for the wrong thing.”
The thought terrifies me. But it’s starting to make more sense as I ruminate. The wrong thing, not the wrong man, nor the wrong road. He had said, “You shall have no other gods before me”, and I had thought that commandment easy. But all this time, I had had another “god” tucked away: that imaginary, alluring picture of a home I crave for, a home bathed in soft yellow light, filled with laughter, and bursting with love. That had been my idol, and I had not known. And now I am angry because it is not granted me. The wrong thing indeed.
Yet this terrible longing, does it not come from God as well? Perhaps our wishes for a home are reflections of an intrinsic desire for a heavenly home which is our birthright. A faithful heart is meant to beat with the joyful music of heaven, not to be trapped and tempted by the immediate and the carnal. And one day, God willing, He will bless us with a microcosm on earth of what it is like in Heaven.
All in His time. All according to His will.
In the meantime, wait… Wait upon the Lord.
“Yet, the strength of those who wait with hope in the LORD will be renewed. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and won’t become weary. They will walk and won’t grow tired.”
This promise I cling to. So help me God.