I’m the Meantime
Messaging with a friend, about work and stress, people vying for power, and how to stay the high road, I closed out with “I’m the meantime,…”, followed by what I thought was decent relevant advice. Grrrr. Sigh. IN the meantime, IN IN IN. Not “I’m”. The typo, discovered too late, bothered me so much after I hit ‘send’. I am many things, for sure, but like everyone defined by the human condition, I bristle against being relegated to ‘meantime’, settled on as the in-between, the option, the placeholder, the participation award.
In order not to overthink this, I had to really think about it (those are two different things, trust me). Here’s the hot scoop. Meantime is not a dirty word. It’s actually (and I quote) ‘what is happening while something else is happening’. In-the-meantime is not settling for a substitute or proxy. It’s not either-or, rather, it’s both-and. It’s this-while-that. It’s concurrent. Oh hey. In-the-meantime is also known as living your life.
Truthfully, ‘in the meantime’ can feel pretty heavy. If you are in a chapter of waiting — for a milestone to be achieved, for the other shoe to drop, for things to break in your favor…or anything in between — time unfolds imperceptibly slowly. If you are paused in the mire of loss and grief, ‘in the meantime’ seems irrelevant and mean-spirited, as concurrent events unfurl for others, without you. Time suspended in hospital waiting rooms, nursing homes, empty bedroom closets still full of clothes, looking across to an empty place at the table, hanging (or folding back into storage) a Christmas stocking embroidered with a name of someone no longer here, feels as if there is no ‘meantime’ — there is only this difficult lonely terrain.
Especially right now, in this season of anticipation, many of us feel like we are thick in the definition of ‘in the meantime’. Waiting for family to arrive, tracking packages, baking, decorating, opening doors of advent calendars, we are suspended in expectancy. It is a heady time, replete with carols and lights, trimmings and bows. Maybe, in the midst of the anticipation, we can take a moment to create something for someone else, in our meantime. Maybe give blood at a blood drive. Drop off cards at the VA Hospital, or cookies at the fire station. Donate food, mittens, blankets, socks, toys, books. Thank teachers and librarians and nurses and postal workers and busdrivers. Text someone at the raggedy edge of fragility, shore them up for a moment. Share a story, a laugh, a memory, with someone hurting. Support a small business, buy local art and bakery and bookstore offerings, give giftcards for your favorite cafe, over-tip, over-thank, over-care.
Historically, this season unfolded on the shoulders of the lonely, and the waiting, many who thought a promise would never come. Used to working alone, in quiet darkness, unnoticed, ancient shepherding was a thankless gig. Shepherds of old mostly just tried to not have their sheep fall off cliffs or get eaten by wolves. The conditions were cold and dark, unsheltered and unforgiving. And yet, the message of hope landed on their watch, during their meantime, while they were vigilant toward their flocks and waited for daylight. Anyone with their own meantime stretched out dark and cold in front of them, trying to keep their senses while averting unforeseen pitfalls, can relate.
December is gonna December. For many, it is already a difficult month. For anyone newly acquainted with loss and grief, it holds mostly darkness. Amidst holiday movies with happy endings, carols of joy, gatherings and giftings, loneliness is amplified. In this season of impossible promise, there is no better time to take an extra moment to hold the door, share a smile, a compliment, give grace to others — friend or neighbor or stranger. No matter how solid (or rocky) your own footing is in this season, there are zero people who cannot benefit from kindness. My own mother used to open our home on Christmas Eve to those without a place to go: divorced without holiday custody, newly widowed, newly relocated, the quietest members of our community or the loudest ones surviving on bawdy jokes and lots of wassail to ease the evening. Now, while we wait in anticipation for the holiday traditions to transpire, it seems like a divine opportunity to use our own in-the-meantime to breathe life into someone else’s right-now.
So it may be true that ‘in the meantime’ is most often used to describe periods of waiting, or downtime, yet in reality it is the realness of time moving and passing. Seen in print, the phrase is usually followed by a comma: “In the meantime,…”. Remember back to early grammar lessons, and learning the comma illustrates a pause, the literary concept of taking a breath. Perhaps we need to recall that is where we are now: in the meantime. Pause. Breathe. We are not optional — we are necessary. Concurrent to each other, we are each the meantime; you are the meantime, I am the meantime, and we are all in the meantime, together, apart, pause, breathe, hold space, give grace, nod, notice, see, believe.