No one need ever hurry in keeping an appointment with me. No one need ever come up panting with apologies and explanations as to why it is ten minutes past six instead of the appointed six minutes past ten. It is all one to me, for I like to be kept waiting.
As I grow older the fallacy of many early tenets once held sacred is revealed to me, and no discovery has given me such breadth of vision as has come with the dawning consciousness, now confirmed as a canon of my new faith, that promptness is an overrated virtue. My only regret is that this revelation came so late, after I had wasted in unappreciated agony so many hours of waiting — hours which might have been turned into pleasure unalloyed.
As a child, I was taught that tardiness for an appointment was little short of a crime, that the explanations and apologies due to anyone kept waiting could not be adequate unless they issued from a heavy and contrite heart. As a result I lived with my eyes on the clock. I hurried. I scrambled. Life was a series of breath-taking rushes. And if, through some misadventure or act of God, I was forced to arrive late, I was purple with shame and guilt.
But now I am done with promptness and all its obligations. If anyone makes an appointment with me, it is distinctly at his own risk. I shall probably be late — hours late — and quite cheerful about it. I may even not appear at all. On the other hand, if he who is to meet me is delayed, what of it? The longer I wait, the better I like it. I love to be kept waiting, for I have learned a secret: that waiting time is all one’s own.
Out of all the day with its endless demands and exactions, that time which one spends in waiting on the convenience of another is a gorgeous, private gift. These are the moments when one is not dutybound to be thinking about home discipline, the grocery budget, or the maid’s morals. There is no compulsion to dwell on elevating thoughts. Such time is, in truth, one’s very own.
How I regret the hours on end that I wasted in tense waiting before this realization came to me! How I used to try, with one futile device or another, to shorten the time, mentally urging some delinquent friend or relative to greater speed and promptness, inwardly computing how I should have to slice and parry later engagements to make up the lost time. I am forced to admit, you see, that I am a scuttler.
Now a scuttler is a person who is con genitally and eternally in a hurry. You can recognize a scuttler as far as you can see him by his trot — a kind of worried, hopeless half-run, half-walk. His eyes are harried; they fairly burst with apologies at the slightest provocation. ‘Between the telephone, don’t you know, and the doorbell, and the maid’s afternoon out and Junior’s swallowing his tooth brace, I simply could not* make it one minute sooner!’ Male or female, the species has its distinguishing marks.
I was born a scuttler. I trotted. I apologized. Each morning as I looked over my list of obligations for the day, I knew that I could not possibly meet them all on schedule, scuttle as I would. Still I tried. My hands busy with one task, my mind would be two jobs ahead casting up its accounts to see just how far behind I was already and wondering frantically where I should be at six.
But that was before I made my discovery. Now there are only two appointments to which I hold myself. Each day I pick up the children at three and my husband at five-thirty. If you have ever tried to hurry the modern child or the modern husband, you will know that every day, rain or shine, I sit waiting at the wheel anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours and a half. As long as I remained a scuttler, these periods were sheer agony. I had nothing for it but to learn wisdom. And learn I did — and, in learning, discovered that I liked waiting.
Now, as I sit parked double at the curb, cars can bump me from behind or jam into me in front — what care I? I am as delightfully alone as if I were in the North woods. If the traffic officer orders me to take a turn around the block, my hands and feet obey the signals, but my spirit, so to speak, skips rope.
‘Your mother has been waiting for you an hour,’ says some kindly teacher reproachfully to the children.
‘Your wife must get tired,’ a client tells my husband, viewing me ten stories below. ‘Three times that traffic cop has made her move.’
‘Oh, she likes it,’ they reply.
And I do.