On Waiting

I am an expert on waiting. That doesn’t mean I’m good at it.

On Twitter last night, Ibram X Kendi sagely compared his election feelings to the ones he had before cancer surgery. It’s true: very similar. Very life or death. But this morning, I can’t stop thinking about scans.

Scans loom on the horizon for weeks, even months, and the feeling in the pit of your stomach grows as they get closer. In a surgery you have the blessed black of anesthesia. In a CT scan, you are awake the whole time. You see the scanner whir, but you don’t know what it means.

Right now, the United States is at the worst part: the part in between the scan itself and getting the scan results from the doctor. The die is cast but we don’t know what it says. The envelopes are there in stacks, but we can’t see inside them.

It’s an awful feeling. It’s awful because of our lack of control. Voting was doing something. Volunteering for campaigns or to help the electoral process was doing something. Now we just wait.

(Unless you are an elections law specialist, in which case, godspeed).

But here is what I have learned about waiting.

While you are waiting, life still happens. You teach classes. You send e-mails from the waiting room. You try to eat something. Maybe you go for a walk.

Most of all, you are allowed to NOT FOCUS ON WAITING. You are allowed to do other things, even if the feeling in the pit of your stomach never goes away. I have read wonderful books and watched whole movies in waiting rooms. (But I have also had legit panic attacks).

Or you are allowed to be present with your fear, and check the websites, and be part of that. I’ve googled cancer statistics from waiting rooms too.

It’s awful because so many more lives than one are at stake.

Someday soon we will sit in the inner room, the exam room, and someone will come through the door and we will know something more. I hope the process holds and we look at the full results. I hope they don’t somehow miss a vital organ, or see the wrong pattern.

Even when I breathe a sigh of relief at a clear scan, the worrying cycle begins again. There is always more work to do. I’m still a cancer survivor who fears recurrence. However the election goes, America still has so many worrisome cells (and some literally violent cells), so much work remaining to be mended. So many scars that will be there even if we ever are.

(I was going to write, “whatever the result, there’s always another scan,” when I realized that that is where this metaphor breaks down. Because sometimes nothing nothing more can be done for the patient. Our electoral system is so brittle, splintering, close to complete structural failure; the fear is we never get to scan America’s heart again).

That’s all I’ve got.

Jodi Eichler-Levine is Associate Professor of Religion Studies and Berman Professor of Jewish Civilization at Lehigh University. She teaches and writes at the intersection of Jewish Studies, religion in North America, and gender studies. Her next book, Paper Pomegranates and Needlepoint Rabbis: How Jews Craft Resilience and Create Community, will published by UNC Press in October 2020.