Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

(Elodie Arbogast • The Student Life)

One quiet evening, after binge-working all afternoon and forgoing the dining hall, I found myself drawn to the gathering place of the hungry, the gastronomic pride of Harvey Mudd College, my favorite spot to squander my flex dollars: the place known as Jay’s Place to the pizza cognoscenti, and the “Mudd Hole” to the uninformed.

Jay’s Place had a sizable line leading to the door – nothing unusual, and more of an inevitability due to its high quality cuisine. But as I noticed the line growing larger, there was no one behind me. Hungry individuals were forsaking the queue by discreetly inserting themselves next to those in line with whom they were familiar, a phenomenon known as “line cutting.”

My response was not one of anger or frustration, but confusion. Why were people overlooking the beauty of waiting in a line?

In spite of the unique personality of each dining hall, they all share a commonality: a wait-time before receiving the main course. Standing in line behind a person who arrived earlier than you is a reality of all in-person services with a high demand, and for good reason.

Waiting in line is not a meaningless experience. It is one that breeds a culture of fair societal order. If line-cutting were universal and permitted, those with greater social popularity will be given preference over those who have waited the longest. Without lines altogether, the dining hall would descend into a world of anarchy and chaos.

I’ve stood in perhaps thousands of lines, and each line is different.

International airports offer a unique context for lines. In itself, traveling is essentially a process of waiting. Travellers wait in lines to get their boarding pass and to submit their luggage. Then, they wait in the security line to arrive at their gate.

While they wait to board, they will go to the nearest Starbucks to wait for a coffee. Then, their flight is delayed so they wait some more. They will then wait in the boarding line to get on the plane. Sitting on the plane, they wait until they arrive at their destination. Once they have arrived, they will then wait to get off the plane and wait to be accepted by passport control and then customs.

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time wandering around airport gates over the years, and I often pay attention to how other people spend their time waiting. There are business people all dressed up, using their company Windows computer. There are young people binge-watching television while scrolling through social media on their smart phones. There are adults who are using their iPads or reading true crime novels. Then there are those old enough to just sit there doing nothing.

These are, of course, generalizations, but widely true, and telling to human nature. This is not by virtue of age but, instead, by result of being socialized during the swift development of the personal device.

Younger people, for a greater portion of their lives, have been exposed to electronic stimulants to the extent that their fundamental needs have changed. Younger individuals need the most things to keep themselves stimulated. Older people can just be present in every moment.

Standing still for a reasonable period of time without stimulation is a reward in itself. Given the omnipresence of personal devices, time alone with one’s thoughts are hard to come by. Lines are time with no active obligation, allowing time to reflect and meditate, to explore the limitless expanse of the mind.

A line is an opportunity for cultivating patience. One who can stoically endure a painful wait will more likely have a tolerant and accepting personality. Lines are an inevitability of society, so why should they breed frustration?

To cut a line at the 5Cs is to take advantage of your peers’ kindness and patience. It is to play to your baser, anarchistic instincts and discard a culture of order. It is to forgo learning the virtues of patience – and is to display a lack of appreciation of a society where everyone is treated equally and fairly.   

Take the risk of self-reflection. Dare to embrace the wait.