Why Not Now?

She wakes with the sense of a strong dream—vivid images, dynamic people, important words—receding just ahead of her conscious thought.

Don’t go, she thinks, but the dream whooshes around a corner of her waking mind, just out of reach.

But a memory immediately fills the void. Almost forty years ago, in another December, she was working in a supermarket deli, and she had a young colleague, Kathy, whose father was retiring. Kathy was blond and bubbly, and that week, she was even more effervescent than usual: she and her brothers were going to Florida to help her parents set up housekeeping. They’d bought a little vacation home near the ocean, saved all their lives for it. They’d given up dinners out and treats for the kids and family vacations.

When Dad retires…they’d said, for years, and they spun out tales of the fun they’d have: the whole family would come down to Florida, and they would have the most amazing barbecues.They’d walk to the beach, and the kids would dash into the ocean, and everyone would get sun-toasted. There would be endless beachy days.

So that week, Kathy was giddy with excitement. Her dad would retire that Friday. He and her mom would spend five days tying up loose ends, getting the paperwork in order, making some plans for the old house…and then, the following Saturday, all of them would fly down to Florida.

A family dream was coming true, and we were happy for our colleague Kathy, the rest of us, woven fast into a snow-deep western New York winter. We were happy, and a little bit envious. We trudged out to our cars after work, crunched open doors glazed with sleety rain that had frozen into snow. We turned reluctant ignitions, cranked the heat up as high as it would go, pulled the long-handled brushes from our backseats, and started, in the whipping wind, to clean off our poor vehicles, marshmallowed with snow tufts during our shifts.

Brrrr, we said. Lucky YOU, Kathy! Next week, you’ll be in the sun…

That Thursday, Kathy didn’t come in to work. Her father, our boss informed us, had had a massive heart attack. He died that afternoon.

And the Florida dream died with him. Kathy’s mother couldn’t bear the thought of going without him. She sold the property and settled back in to the old family home—the one that had endured so many sacrifices (We can live with the old linoleum! We don’t need central air! The kitchen is fine for one more year! Just think; next year, we’ll be in Florida…)

In a week or two, Kathy came back to work, the excitement gone, the glow erased.

The door to someday had closed abruptly.


It is one of those perfect Saturdays…they drive to Easterville to spend a good chunk of time at Half Price Books. Joe takes in a bundle of books and movies and videos games; they browse while the staff at the ‘Sell us your stuff!’ desk examine and evaluate. Finally, “Joseph! Your offer is ready!” floats out over the intercom, and he hurries over to hear the news.

He comes back, grinning, with the receipt in hand. He has turned the cache into cash.

They disperse, each to their own pursuits. In the clearance section, she finds two books she’d been meaning to request at the library. Two dollars each! She buys them both, snuggles in to a chair in the store window, waiting for the boyos to finish their shopping.

Later, they go to a local coffee shop where they brew the BEST decaf. They splurge on wonderful cookies, breaking their wheat-fast just for a day.

They drive home, gleaming at their bargains, sated with coffee and looking forward to satisfying reading to be done.

The next morning, as she pours her coffee, she thinks, Someday, I’ll live in a place with a bookstore and a coffee shop, and I’ll walk downtown in the mornings with my perfect book; I’ll go to the coffee shop and order something wonderful, and I’ll spread the book open, sip my steaming decaf, and I’ll read, unencumbered for an hour.  

Maybe even more.

It’s a well-worn dream, soft from handling. Suddenly she sends tendrils out into the future, sends shoots searching for a concrete concept of when ‘someday’ might happen. Those green shoots whip out and flail and roll back up. Empty.

She cannot find the ‘someday’ of her dream, cannot make it real, and a small voice says, piping but clear: Why wait for someday? Why not NOW?

The next morning, she puts Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ Small Fry and a notebook into the beautiful quilted bag a dear friend made for her, and she drives to the new coffee shop on Poplar Avenue. She orders a slice of quiche, and they bring her a brimming, steaming mug of decaf, and she reads for an hour, the quiet murmur of morning conversations blending into white noise around her.

It is a good way to start the day, and she goes home ready to tackle the long list of to-do’s that awaits her.


At the supermarket, she runs into a friend, Lisa, from church. She and Lisa are about the same age, and they share a strong interest in services for adults with disabilities. They serve on a committee together, and they stop and talk for a little about the work that committee has been doing.

And then Lisa looks at her watch and grimaces. She has not yet retired, and she needs to get back to the office. Lisa waves and hurries her little cart toward the check out.

She waves back, and she admires Lisa’s outfit: a jeans jacket and a long, ethnic-y, patterned skirt.

When I lose some weight, she thinks, I’m going to get a denim jacket.

She pushes along the dairy section, inspects a carton of free-range eggs, sets it gently in the bottom of the cart. She moves on to the cereal aisle.

Later, as she is mopping the kitchen floor, she thinks, Wait. Why couldn’t I shop for a gently-used jacket? What am I waiting for?

That afternoon, she drives to the thrift shop. She finds a jacket in the men’s section. It is soft and broken in and it fits her perfectly.

She takes it home and launders it. She sews up a couple of fraying seams, and secures some wobbling buttons, and she irons that old jacket briskly.

It is just what she’d been looking for, this five-dollar wonder, and she wears it that weekend with her long, crinkly black and white skirt and a comfortable black t-shirt. Three people tell her how nice she looks.

This does not mean, she tells herself wryly, that I DON’T need to lose the weight. But I love my new jacket today.


She loves the old cabinet in the dining room. It is not an antique; it’s not even especially well-made. But it is the style she likes and the size she needs, and it fits perfectly into the space. It holds what needs to be held and its broad flat surface acts, when needed, as a serving space or a counter top.

It would be perfect, she thinks, if it were white. Distressed white; she imagines painting it, then hitting it with the sander, softening edges, making the department store cabinet look like a seasoned, heirloom-y piece.

When I get time, she thinks, I’ll buy some chalk paint…and then she pulls herself up short.

After lunch, she drives to the little shop on Overdale Drive, and she buys white chalk paint and a bottle of protective glaze.

That night, she cleans the cabinet out, stacking the contents neatly into three boxes, and she vacuums the dusty corners, pulls out the drawers, and gives everything a good, hot-soapy-water scrub.

The next morning, she gets up and brushes on the first coat of chalk paint. By the time she is done, the decaf has brewed. By the time she finishes her first cup, the paint has dried.

By the weekend, the cabinet is transformed; her vision is realized.


She thinks about faraway people she misses, and instead of longing for a far off time when she can visit, she makes phone calls and touches base, or she reaches out via email, or she sits down and writes a letter.

She takes the clippers out to the back yard and she hacks down the overgrowth on a scraggly old bush that’s been driving her crazy.

She walks every morning.

She has coffee with a friend she hasn’t seen in way too long, and she makes plan for lunch with another.

She organizes a long-neglected sewing project and works on it after lunch, every day, for half an hour.

She sorts through her bookshelves and makes a stack of books she’s been meaning to read. That night, she lights the fire and takes the first book off the stack, opens it, and enters that world.

Once or twice a week, at least, she takes the book and heads down to the coffee shop. Often, she wears her jeans jacket.


Life’s hard edges become more rounded, more pleasing. There’s a little pilot light that flares up at least once a day. She becomes aware of satisfaction, of contentment. She becomes aware at random moments that what she is feeling is JOY.

She carries the memory of Kathy’s young face just under her everyday awareness—Kathy’s glowing face, anticipating; Kathy’s muted face, the dream dispelled. She hopes, wherever Kathy is now, that life has been good, brought her happiness and wonder, given her a long beachy vacation with screaming kids and laughing adults and a wonderfully generous barbecue.

And she schools herself. Whenever she begins to think, Someday…, she stops herself abruptly.

Someday! she snorts. Some day???

Why not now?


Between Times

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Mark fills a huge coffee mug with kitty kibble, and he pours filtered water into a big glass, and, just as dusk sets in, he walks across the street for the feeding of the cats. These are the cats we’d thought were taken care of; but, after the dust settled, and after their people finally, irrevocably, moved away, it became clear that the cats were living under the front slab at the empty house.

Mark, who would tell you he’s not a cat person,–who might even tell you he hates the damned things,–feeds the cats every night. There are three of them: a big gray-striped cat, a small gray-striped cat, and a black cat with a Roman collar. When they see Mark they gather on the cement block stoop, and they sing to him. The little one runs across the street to meet him, dances between his legs.

The clerical cat has bulging sides; we think it may be a mommy-to-be.

A ‘For Sale’ sign went up in front of the house after the former neighbors were well and truly gone. There was a brisk flow of people in, looking; we got to know the realtor’s car. But early this week, the realtor met some people in front of the house. There was a great flurry of hand shaking, and the realtor took the ‘For Sale’ sign with her when she left.

Now the same two cars have been at the house each day. There is a lean and grizzled-looking older man who drives the smaller car; there are two woman, both plump and blonde and pretty, maybe a mom and daughter, who arrive in the other.

“What about the cats?” Mark and I ask each other, worried. I take the dog for a walk, and the women pull up. I hear one of them saying, “Come here! Come here, buddy!” and making clicking noises, inviting noises, with her tongue. Maybe they’ll adopt those critters.

But when they leave at the end of the day, the cats are there and hungry. Mark slips across the street under cover of darkness and fills the bowls that still sit on the slab.

Will the new owners take the cats on as pets? Will they appreciate the fact that we—the whole neighborhood ‘we’–have nurtured those cats through a difficult winter, making sure they are fed and warm, or will they wish we’d found a different solution?

What will happen to the cats?

There is no way, right now, to know. When the people are well and truly in, we can wander across, make their acquaintance, find out their feelings about those feline residents. Right now, we simmer, and surreptitiously ferry cat food across the street.

It’s a between-time; there is nothing we can do but wait and see.


In the mornings, there is bird song, bright and sharp and clear; single notes break the silence as the ebony sky grays, and, swiftly, more join in. There’s a cacophony, a full-throated chorus.

Spring is here, we think, and it’s a joyous thought after a rugged winter.

The weather warms, and Mark and Jim break out the cargo shorts. Shy crocuses shiver up between clumps of grass. The daffodils push up in the front yard; buds appear, nodding like sleepy heads.

And then the temperature plunges and robins hop through snowy yards. We huddle by the fireplace with our books at night, reconciled to the return of the frigid air. It’s not really winter, but it’s not yet spring either. It’s a between time. Anything can happen, weather-wise, and we can’t move forward with spring things until this interim is over.


After Christmas, Jim takes a deep breath and makes a decision. He is going back to school, pursuing his bachelor’s degree, designing a program that will help him work at a library. He emails his college of choice, makes an appointment, meets with an advisor. The advisor sends him home with a list of things to do, and Jim sets to work, requesting transcripts, filling in forms. He gets everything done and he waits.

Then, last week, good news arrives: he is accepted into a specialized studies program. He can begin taking courses this summer. We cheer; we high-five. Jim starts planning.

Then he realizes he has three months to wait.

It’s a between time. Jim has lots to look forward to, but he can’t start for a while yet. Right now, it’s a waiting game.


I’m with Goethe—whatever it is, I think, begin it. I am blunt and direct, and I don’t like waiting.

So when a problem sprouts, I want to take a sledge hammer and pound it into oblivion. What is the point of letting it sit there; why on earth should we tippy-toe around it? Slam that thing back down to earth.

But sometimes God or nature or the universe, or whatever power one invokes, puts the brakes on. Right now, she whispers, right now, you need to wait.

Wait! Wait! I don’t want to wait. I want to get it out in the open, survey it under the bright sun, figure it out.

I do not like between times.

And so maybe I need to embrace them, relax into them, figure out the wisdom of this time that sits like an airlock between one decisive period and another. Maybe I can stock up on the oxygen I’ll need for the next challenge. Maybe I need to look around and make sure my resources are gathered, that I have the tools I need to do the work ahead.

Maybe I need to take a deep breath and just relax and accept the interlude.

Maybe I need to realize I am not always in control of what happens next.


This morning, James and I took a road trip to a favorite library, 50 miles away. The snow had mostly melted—just ragged little tufts left in the onion grass sprouting on the lawn. They looked like scraps of cotton. The sun was out; a few clouds (they looked like ragged cotton wisps, too) scudded across a blue, blue sky.

We drove down Route 146. The lake was full on one side; we could see it through the bare-branched trees. It will be hidden in a month or two when the trees are fully leafed. I drove and looked at the trees, thinking it felt as though they were holding their collective breath. There’s a haze of buds on all the branches, a shimmer of almost-there green or redness. But the branches are like knobby fingers, tightly extended. Not yet, not yet, they’re saying.

We drove past meadows that are sere and brown and seemingly lifeless. Not winter, not spring; almost, I thought, a time devoid.

“Look at the vultures,” I said to Jim,–conjuring images of lifeless prey–and we both peered up through the windshield. The big birds swooped and soared, black wings arced.

“Wait,” said Jim. “Look at that one. It’s got a white head.”

There was nothing behind us. I pulled the car over, and we craned our necks, tracking the white head, close enough to see the cruel curved beak, watching the eagle curve and loop on the wind.  Maybe, I think, a sight we wouldn’t have seen when the trees were green and little wildlife were running through hidden fields, enticed by the feeling of invisibility among the tall grasses, seduced by the warmth of a springtime sun.

Strong and sure and joyful, the eagle soared away. I pulled the car back out onto the highway, and we resumed our road trip.

But—an eagle, I thought. An eagle in the between time. There’s a message there, for sure.

Like finding the wisdom of between times, I just have to figure out what the message is.




The Hardest Part

…I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting
for the Salvation Army to take over
and I am waiting
for the meek to be blessed
and inherit the earth   
without taxes
and I am waiting
for forests and animals
to reclaim the earth as theirs
        –from “I am Waiting,” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, retrieved from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/42869

“I am waiting,” writes poet Ferlinghetti, and years ago, I, an awkward, impatient college student, read those words and realized something: everyone is waiting. Waiting for payday, waiting for the diagnosis, waiting for the message or the phone call; waiting to hear about the job; waiting to settle into the job; waiting for real life to commence.

They’re waiting for baby to arrive, for the results of the election, for the next joyful day. They’re waiting for the next bruising thing.

Waiting, my 19-year-old self realized, though dimly, through distorting smoky lenses, is the human condition.

And, oh. How I hated waiting.


As a child, it seemed that every good thing involved a protracted wait, a rigorous preparation time,—and I was not, I quickly learned, a graceful wait-er. Before we put the Christmas tree up [on the day before Christmas Eve, and why did we have to wait so long? Everyone else’s tree had been up for a week or more. I had a friend whose family put their tree up on THANKSGIVING WEEKEND] the house had to be painstakingly cleaned. This involved scouring all surfaces and, sometimes, even painting them. It involved crawling on the floor with a bucket that contained water sudged up with a glomp of Murphy’s Oil Soap, a viscous substance which needed much flailing of hand in the bucket to become one with the water.

“God forbid,” I would mutter, “we should march into Christmas with unwashed woodwork.”

That sentiment earned me a rap on the head, but it did not get me out of cleaning. Christmas was coming; Advent was its season of waiting. Of preparation. We washed woodwork. And I could feel the coming of joy, of that moment on Christmas morning when it was finally time! When everyone piled in and tore off the wrappings and wonderful, unthought-of things were mine, mine without asking, mine without sharing, mine, because someone had considered what I might like. Thank you, Jesus, for your birthday treasure, thought the child.

I did not sleep the night before Christmas; I thrashed and whined and lay, eyes wide open, feeling all the angst and wonder of major joy imminent.

It didn’t help that my father worked for the power company and that he always had to work on Christmas. If he was scheduled for later arrival– 8 a.m., perhaps, we’d all get up at 6 and pile in. But if he had to go in early–say, from 6 until 2–we would have to wait. Those hours, after a sleepless night, and with the presents stacked enticingly below the tree, were murderous.

“Take a NAP,” my mother would snarl, when I whined about how long it was taking.

A NAP? Was she kidding?

The hours ticked away, moment by sluggish moment.

Good things are worth waiting for, my mother opined.

Waiting, I thought (but did not say), is highly over-rated.


It was hard enough waiting for good things. Waiting for bad, awful things was even worse. When I committed some childhood crime and was told we would talk about it later, I thrashed and moaned. Oh, let’s just get it over with! I thought; let’s be on the other side of the spanking and the yelling.

But timing wasn’t MY choice; if they said wait, then wait I must.

We had an egg-shaped dentist, bald of head, round of belly, garbed in white, who had powdery clean hands and lashless eyes behind rimless glasses. He did not believe in Novocaine–Novocaine was for SISSIES! he said,–and he would crook my head firmly in the pit of his elbow and drill for gold.

No matter how I brushed, it seemed there was always gold for which to drill. In those memory-tinted days, we did not go to the dentist every six months; we went every toothache instead. So there was never a, “No cavities this time!” visit; every visit involved the whirring, smelly, smoky dental drill. And there was always a wait of at least a week before we could go.

So I waited with an aching tooth, and I waited with the knowledge of pain to come, and the waiting seeped in and flavored–tainted–every single day.

I tried to tell myself that I was letting one anticipated moment ruin hundreds of others.

I tried to tell myself that the time before and after the dreaded moment was GOOD time, happy time, time to draw pictures and play kickball and read wonderful books. But that one looming moment soaked into everything I enjoyed, spoiling the fun.

I would leave the dental office with the memory of that ache ground into my teeth, knowing a next time was coming.


When I grow up, I thought, contemplating waiting, things are gonna change.

And so I waited to grow up.


And I discovered, having at least nominally completed that growing, that I finally had some control.

So our Christmas tree went up the second or third week of December, and quite often, the woodwork had not been scrubbed on hands and knees. We enjoyed the glow and the greenery and the warmth through the depth of that darkest month. The wait for Christmas morn, and the tearing into presents, became an enjoyable anticipation. If I still couldn’t sleep the night before, as a grown-up, there was plenty to keep me busy–presents to assemble and wrap, coffee cakes to shape and bake and frost, thank you notes from Santa to write for plates of home-made cookies.

And then living with an autistic child taught me something about waiting, too–taught me that if waiting for the good thing is exquisite and challenging for US, it can be true agony for THEM. And so we had to change the shape of much-anticipated holidays, doling out delights along the paths, lessening the pressure-cooker of stressful anticipation.

It wasn’t just being a grown-up. The people who are dear to me changed the way I wait.


But. I controlled what I could.


I found a better dentist, of course; I went for regular checkups. The need for the drill lessened dramatically…and when it did come ’round, I forcefully advocated for Novocaine.

I found that planning made the waiting times flow; that tasks to be done and milestones along the way created a pace and a paving to the anticipated event.

Time taught me that there are some waits I cannot control, as we navigated such things as closings for houses and celebrated the nine month preparation for a baby.

And I learned that, sometimes, waiting involves vigil.  I learned that at the bedsides of my parents; they taught me deep-planted lessons about the grace of dying well.


Lent is a waiting season, a vigil itself–waiting for the tragedy to happen, trusting in the miracle to follow. And this Lent, the theme of waiting is especially present.

This year, I can count on one hand the months left in my academic life: I am waiting to retire.

This year, I walk by my little dog, melded into the couch cushions, snoring deeply, and I think about her milky eyes and at least twelve years, and I ratchet down my annoyance at her pleadings and ratchet up my love of her silky head.

This year, my bold friend Kim, who was told seven years ago to get her affairs in order–told then that her hour was at hand,–is well and truly entered into that last days tunnel.

And I’m realizing that waiting times are sometimes grace times–times of doing the necessary work, ordering the papers; times of being mindful and joyful of what we know we’re losing; times of celebrating connection before the necessity of letting go: preparing the house for the event I know is coming.

I have learned this: that life, no matter what, brings pain. I can insulate myself to minimize that, to keep the pain at its very minimum–but the isolation itself is painful consequence. So…with every dog we’ve ever had, when the parting time comes, we have wept and we have muttered, “Never again. Never again. I cannot say goodbye like this one more time.”

And the car stops, it seems, of its own volition, at the Humane Society, and the wet-eyed pup pokes its nose through the chain links, and we know: we will adopt this dog, and we will love each age and stage.

And we will say goodbye.

And if I throw myself out into the torrent–if I take chances and forge connections and braid myself into others’ lives, and weave those others into mine–then loss becomes an inevitable part of joy. But on the way–what wonders. What growth and sharing and learning accrue, the gifts of deep friendships and family relationships and community commitments,–accomplishments forged together; fun, unimagined beforehand; perfect, complete, and nurturing times–what things I would have missed.


I am waiting, writes Ferlinghetti, and oh, he’s right: I am waiting.

I am waiting for the flowers to bud, for the paperwork for the pension to arrive, for the four-legged step to falter, for the days of a wonderful friend to ebb and wane. I am waiting for that end to come, and I am waiting to learn how that end is also a beginning.

I am waiting because I must; I am waiting without grace; but I am waiting. And I am discovering the value that lurks within.