I’ve never owned a car before, and as I put my new purchase in gear, I wondered about all the time I spent waiting for a bus, streetcar or subway. Slow buses due to weather or traffic. Streetcars lined up in winter like slow-moving seniors because someone parked too far from the curb, leaving too little room for the streetcar to pass. Delayed subways because someone jumped, all of us standing on the platform, frustrated in our lateness, unable to comprehend what caused this person to make that decision, but rarely thinking about it, focused solely on our own superfluous problems. Some people say it’s worth the wait. But is it? And what’s ‘it’? Others say, I can’t wait! But isn’t patience a virtue? And is it really a virtue? There are people who have waited to turn that friend into a lover. Does it ever happen? And if it does, does it ever really work? Waiters wait on tables in high-end restaurants. On film sets, the old cliché goes: hurry up and wait. Would you make up your mind? Do I ‘hurry’ or do I ‘wait’? You would get yelled at when not hurrying and ridiculed for impatience. The adult contemporary singer Richard Marx had this rock ballad hit in 1989 (look at that hair!):
He's probably still right here waiting for you.
Computers and smart phones are designed to make our lives easier. But we wait for them to boot up, wait for messages to be sent, wait for files to render, process and defragment. Signals are lost and we wait to get back to an area with reception. Someone once said to me, "I always arrive 15 minutes late so I never have to wait for anyone." But doesn't that mean everyone is always waiting for her?
We even have a room in doctor’s offices called The Waiting Room.
Think of all the time spent waiting when we could be doing something else. For example, let’s say I want to ponder the meaning of life. This is not something you can do when agitated over when the next bus will arrive. I’m also not in the position to have a sit down with the Dalai Lama like that Australian news reporter, who, when interviewing the holy man, tried this joke on him: “The Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop and says, ‘can you make me one with everything?’” A squandered opportunity.
Anyway, in order to ponder the meaning of life, I need time. If I calculate the amount of time waiting for public transit, makes my head spin in the wrong direction. I am a writer, not a mathematician, so please go with me on this. The average life expectancy in Canada is 80 years old. That’s approximately 960 months, 29,280 days, 702,720 hours or 42,163,200 minutes. I would include seconds but my calculator showed this number and I don’t even know what it means: 2.529792e+9.
42,163,200 minutes. That sounds like a lot of time. The meaning of life could easily be figured out with this amount of time. But. On average, we sleep one third of our life. Automatically knock off 14,054,400 minutes, which leaves us with 28,108,800. Plenty of time to sit on a mountain somewhere steeped in contemplation: what does it all mean?
Wait. Let’s say you spend 20 minutes on the toilet. I like to read - which is more information than you need to know - so let's bump that up to 25 minutes. Over the course of 80 years, that’s 582,400 minutes in the bathroom, leaving us 27,526,400 – still not bad. Eating takes time, three meals a day, 20 minutes per meal, totals: 1,747,200 minutes stuffing our faces. I went to school five days a week from about the age of 5 until the age of nineteen, equaling: 1,310,400 minutes, throw in another 500,000 for university and college. Eating and school account for 3,557,600 minutes. Include another 3,000,000 minutes on other activities such as reading, training as a competitive athlete and watching way too many movies and this pulls me down to 17,911,200.
17,911,200 minutes to ponder the meaning of life.
Other statistics I found: over the course of a lifetime, people spend an average of 2,103,792 minutes doing housework, 525,948 minutes looking for lost possessions and 1,051,896 minutes kissing another person.
That brings my total down to 14,229,564 minutes or 237,159 hours or 9881 days or 329 months or 27 years. Then there’s all the waiting. Modest statistics put waiting in lines (for various reasons) at 5 years. I’ve taken public transit for ten years, let’s say on average I’m waiting 20 minutes, twice a day, five days a week. That’s 200 minutes per week and over ten years equals 104,000 minutes. After all this waiting, I still have 11,495,824 minutes to contemplate the meaning of life.
But when do I actually live my life? What would be the point of finding the meaning of life if I never live it? Forget it. Or perhaps I’ve just done too much math.
We are all waiting. But waiting for what?Now I drive by those people waiting at bus stops and feel sorry for them. But am I better off sitting here waiting in traffic?