I hate to wait in line.
But if I have to wait, I find consolation in the fact that I’ll soon hear my favorite word — “Next!”
This word is music to those who hate to wait. Maybe that’s why I love businesses that form a single line for all customers. I stand in those lines and think, “I might be sixth in line, but with six clerks, I’m really next.
Next is a delightful place, because it means you’ve finally arrived at where you want to be. Even better, you’ve finally vacated the place you were dreading, i.e., the loathsome waiting line.
However, in the context of my world as a hospital chaplain, there are moments when I dread to think about the word next. Nearly everyday I witness parents who are losing a child or spouses who are losing their life mates, and I imagine what it might be like to be next.
As a military chaplain, I’ve made approximately 15 death notifications since the war began. Last month, I went to the home of an 18-year-old Army private to tell his mother he’d been killed in Iraq. As I left the home, I shuddered to think how my 17-year-old Marine son could be next.
But you don’t have to work as a chaplain to recognize the feeling. We’ve all felt it as we talk to someone who’s experienced a horrendous loss. Our throat constricts as they describe their loss. A moment later, we are patting the grieving person on the back and awkwardly extricating ourselves from the one-way conversation.
How is it that we can be so insensitive? Simple — we worry about being next. Sometimes we even worry, “Why wasn’t I next?”
The crazy thing is that if we are next for a tragedy, we look back on our worry and call it a premonition. Yet if nothing happens, we call ourselves obsessive.
It makes me wonder sometimes if everyone is dealt a certain quota of horrendous loss. Since my life has been relatively unaffected by tragedy, is my quota stuck in the production line? I worry that suddenly my full quota will arrive all at once in a Job-like proportion.
Of course, I know the quota thing isn’t true. Yet it still doesn’t stop me from secretly hoping I’ll discover a Bible verse promising, “Tragic loss. Limit: one to a customer.”
Obviously, that’s not true either.
There is no guarantee about what is next. I’ve often arrived at the front of those bank lines only to watch two tellers close their windows. That’s life.
So, instead, I try to focus on what is true.
What is true is that I have my family and friends now.
What is true is that my family and friends have our health now.
But most of all, thankfully, God promises to wait with us in the now and in the struggle. It is the promise that God made to us “even to the end of the world.”
So at the end of the day, my goal is that someday in the future, when my “next” becomes my “now,” I can look back and celebrate a life filled with the joy of the now.