A long time ago – or at least what feels like a long time ago – it was actually on a Friday morning a month BCE (Before Coronavirus Exploded), I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a soon-to-be-required Enhanced License. The lines at the DMV can be long, so I made sure to be there when they opened at 8:30 am. When I walked in at 8:32, the large room was mostly full, and there was already a long line, constantly growing. I was given a little slip of paper with a few random numbers and told to have a seat and wait until my number was called.
My number was preceded with the letter U. To my consternation, I quickly realized that not all of the numbers being called began with the letter U. That meant I would not only have to wait for my number to be called, there was also no recognizable pattern in knowing when it would be called.
(I have never been good with numbers and memorizing things, so I was constantly taking the slip of paper out of my pocket to check the number. As the time wore on, I came up with a fictitious story to help me remember my number:
One night there were a bunch of cookies taken from the pantry. The mother called her sons Juan and Julio and asked who ate the missing cookies. When Juan said that he hadn’t eaten one and that only Julio did, Julio stood up and yelled, “U8121” (You ate one, too, Juan). Because of my brilliant story, I still remember my numbers now.)
The hours ticked away slowly. I finished the parshah, learned Gemara, prepared class, and wrote an article.
I told all the Jews I saw that we should have someone get wine and challos for us, because it didn’t look like we were getting out before Shabbos. I nervously hoped I was joking.
After about three hours, I guesstimated that it was almost my turn – which meant within an hour! But then there was an announcement overhead: “We have just been informed by the central offices in Albany that their system is down. This is completely beyond our control. We cannot process any licenses at this time. We have no idea how long this will last.”
It was the last thing I wanted to hear. All of those hours waiting for nothing. I would have to start all over again.
Thankfully, a few minutes later, just before I walked out, they announced that those who had papers that were in order would receive a pass, which would allow them to return the following week and bypass the line.
With that paper in hand, I indeed returned the following week and was able to bypass the line. My number was called after only an hour.
Then I stood at the desk opposite the clerk for literally 45 minutes. I felt that he was stuck in slow motion. I have hardly ever witnessed greater incompetence. But finally, I was given a receipt and told I could expect my enhanced license to arrive within two weeks.
It was quite an annoying experience. But as I type these words, in the midst of the global Coronavirus pandemic, I now know that this experience was hardly practice for the patience we all are being forced to exercise during this time.
In Oh, the Places You’ll Go! Dr. Seuss wrote about “a most useless place:
The Waiting Place…
…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.”
The truth is that much of life is spent waiting. On a simple level, we have to wait on store lines, in traffic, for packages to arrive, etc. But on a more significant level, people wait for all sorts of salvations and panaceas. There are people waiting for shidduchim, to have children, for estranged children to return home, to be able to pay their bills, to find a home in a good neighborhood, for shalom bayis, for emotional stability, and the painful list goes on and on.
Rabbi Yisroel Reisman noted that the perspective of a Torah Jew is to always strive to grow in every situation. The goal is that when the difficult situation ends, one can look back at that time as a time of growth during the challenge.
Sometimes we hear people reflect upon the most difficult period of their lives as being the most gratifying, and even the most fulfilling. How is such a dichotomy possible? Because fulfillment is the result of growth, and one who grows during arduous times sees tangible good that emerged from it.
Rabbi Reisman noted that “this situation will pass and it will be a distant memory. When 9/11 was going on, we thought that we would never forget it. Yet, it became a distant memory, and life reverted back to normal. Now, too, life will return to normal. The question is if we will be able to look back at this difficult period, as one in which we accomplished and grew.”
The memories we can create for our families during this challenging time period cannot be created under normal circumstances.
We surely hope and pray that this will all end, all those who are sick will be healed, all those who have suffered tragic losses will be consoled, and all those who have been severely impacted financially will recoup their losses. But until Hashem does so, we have to do our best, considering the circumstances.
We have little control over those times when we find ourselves in The Waiting Place. But it is our choice whether we allow it to be a most useless place or if we make it into a most productive place.
To do so is surely no easy feat, but the Jewish people have never shied away from challenges.