cathy-flower-fullBy Cathy Hird

The words meaning and purpose often land together as if they are the same. But I am thinking today about the difference between them. To explore this, I am going to talk about waiting.

What happens for you when you end up in a long slow line at the grocery store? What do you think about as you watch the person three ahead of you struggling to get their groceries loaded? What happens to your heart rate when the person two ahead of you has a problem with the price that has come up, or their debit card won't work? How do you feel when the cashier finds a hole in the bag of rice and waits for a service person to bring back another exactly the same?

I am sure you experience this kind of waiting. How do you react? Do you feel frustration that you are going to be late for where you need to be, anger at someone's incompetence, anger at yourself for being impatient or for choosing the wrong line, again. Because standing still can be physically uncomfortable, do your legs get tingly, or your back start to hurt?

Waiting happens to everyone, so how do you cope with it? You may have a physical exercise you do while standing in line. Stretching out your back eases the tingling; moving the weight from foot to foot distracts you; tensing and releasing muscles gets your body to relax. For a jumpy mind, you may give yourself something to think about. You run over the work presentation for later that day. You plan the next part of a report you have to write. You go over your to do list, pull out a notebook and check it over, and hope you don't think of something you forgot to put in your cart.

Because we value things we accomplish, we don't value waiting. Waiting wastes time. It has no purpose. Getting through the line has a purpose, so we don't just walk away, but the waiting itself is a waste.

We do try to be patient. We try not to blame the person who is struggling. We might even say a prayer for them given their obvious difficulties. We work at letting go of our frustration with how late we are going to be because it can't be helped. We give the workers credit for working through the various problems.

But that is a kind of patience that puts up with what is happening. Is there another kind of patience that encourages us to be where we are?

Some would say that it helps if we realize that we are where we are supposed to be. If that helps, great. I don't tend to say that, because I don't think God's fingers move us around each moment pushing us to where we should end up.

But this is where we are. This is the time we have. We are standing in a long line with these people. Can we keep ourselves - our feelings and thoughts - in this moment and stop wishing we were somewhere else?

We admire the compassionate cashier; can we be compassionate for the person who is struggling? Can we be aware that our waiting gives them space to do what they need to do? Can we leave our work at the office and notice what is here around us, who is here around us? If we live in this moment with the best compassion and gentleness we can, then that gives the moment meaning.

What changes when we let ourselves be in the place where we are? Instead of going over our to do list, we chat in a positive way to the person behind us, smile at the person in front of us. Doing this may help others relax. If so, we've accomplished something. But if we smile with grace then we are living compassion even if the other person keeps grumbling.

Focusing on our purpose keeps us looking out there, up ahead, somewhere else. Attending to meaning can help us live in the moment with what is. I still value purpose; I want a sense of direction. But I am also trying to learn to find meaning to whatever I end up doing, where ever I end up going, where I am.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister and writer living near Walters Falls.