“Why are we waiting? It is agg-ra-va-ting. Why are we wai-ai-ai-ai-ai-ai-ting?”
The year was 1993 (or thereabouts). The place was Blackburn, Lancashire. The wait was unbearable.
We sat in our primary school classroom, arms crossed, voices raised, singing this ditty to the tune of O Come All Ye Faithful, as we fidgeted restlessly awaiting our supply teacher’s arrival.
Back then, the waiting song was much beloved of primary school children. Despite not really knowing what ‘aggravate’ actually meant, we’d learnt early on that waiting was, fundamentally, a Bad Thing – that it was “frustrating, demoralising, agonising, aggravating, annoying, time-consuming and incredibly expensive”, as an old FedEx advert once put it.
Then we grew into adults, and this knowledge was fossilised into a hard grain of truth: that to wait is to waste time; that it’s now or never; that we must carpe the diem because time waits for no one.
Waiting is not easy. The Israelites knew it, and so do we: the average Brit queues for more than 67 hours a year (or 73.7 hours or 108 hours, depending on which survey you choose to believe). Whatever the true figure, it’s a long time. That said, I’m sure it’s a lot less than it used to be.
Remember the days when you had to wait for the cassette to fast-forward before you could skip to your favourite track? When you were forced to wait months for a film’s release on VHS so that you could rent it from Blockbuster? When you had to wait for the local newspaper to get the TV listings? (If you weren’t blessed with Ceefax, that is).
Or remember waiting for dial-up internet to connect, or for the postie to deliver a letter with news from family overseas, or for your 24-exposure film to be developed before you knew how many holiday snaps were good enough to ‘share’ with friends?
These days we have it pretty good. And yet, it’s always so tempting to press the fast-forward button of life: jump that red light, jump the queue, jump the gun, jump to conclusions. Because time, after all, is money – and money makes the world go round, right?
Why else would the UK government invest £50 billion in saving us precious minutes by building HS2, the UK’s largest and most controversial infrastructure project since the M25? Late last month it presented the High Speed Rail Bill – all 50,000 pages of it – to parliament, outlining plans for the first phase of the project.
It seems the people behind HS2 believe that the current 2 hours 8 minutes it takes to go from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly is nowhere near fast enough for travellers with a tendency to break out in a nervous sweat upon leaving the sanctuary of the M25.
Capable of speeds of up to 250mph, HS2 would shave an hour off that journey.
We’re told HS2 will, eventually, boost our economy – a much disputed claim. For frustrated commuters, it may be a lifeline. But at what cost? The excavation of 90 million tonnes of earth, the upheaval of many communities, the demolition of 1,180 buildings, the destruction of 33 woodlands and the rerouting of seven major rivers – among other things. Are we sacrificing too much on the altar of time management? Should we wait for a better alternative before launching in at high speed?
Waiting – whether it’s for a train, a change or a breakthrough – goes against our instincts. And yet, the Bible is full of encouragement to dig our heels in and persevere. In the words of Habakkuk (that Old Testament book you always forgot existed): “Though it linger, wait for it…” (2:3).
As it’s December, this is the perfect time to do a bit of lingering and loitering. Advent is the season of waiting. Waiting for the Boxing Day sales, the Dr Who Christmas special and the one day in the year when it’s socially acceptable to eat twice your body weight in Quality Street. But, most importantly, waiting for the coming of the Servant King.
So next time we find ourselves in a queue, rather than breaking out into a spontaneous round of ‘Why are we waiting?’, perhaps we could make the most of those ‘idle’ minutes. Get out your smartphone (if you have one) and take an online campaign action, give a few pounds to a humanitarian appeal or simply pray for the people, near and far, who have the weight of the world on their shoulders.
Go on: what are you waiting for?