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Posted February 10, 2003

We Wait Too Long

Taken from Say Yes To Life


Watch the faces of people who celebrate a birthday, an anniversary, a new year and see if you do not detect a certain wistfulness in their expressions, a measure of tentativeness in their joy. They seem to follow the biblical advice to "rejoice with trembling."

Life's arithmetic is not simple. Every addition is also a subtraction. When we add a year to those we have already lived, we subtract a year from those remaining to be lived. So the privilege of reaching another milestone is accompanied by the sobering reminder of life's relentless flight.

There is therefore an added sense of urgency to the advice Teddy Kollek, Jerusalem's dynamic mayor, gives in his autobiography, For Jerusalem. He recommends an Eleventh Commandment: "Thou shalt not be patient."

At first blush this bit of advice flies in the face of one of the most universally admired virtues patience. "He that can have patience," wrote Benjamin Franklin, "can have what he wills."

And yet as we reflect on Kollek's words, they seem to contain a pungent wisdom that can serve as a much-needed antidote to our too-human tendency to procrastinate. The truth about us is that in too many vital areas of life we wait too long.

We wait too long to discipline ourselves and to take charge of our lives. We feed ourselves the vain delusion that it will be easier to uproot tomorrow the debasing habits we permit to tyrannize us today and that grow more deeply entrenched each day they remain in power.

We wait too long to show kindness. F. Scott Fitzgerald, the laureate of "the lost generation" created by World War I, wrote to a friend in a time of sadness, "Pray, do write to me. A few lines soon are better than a three-decker novel a month hence."

We wait too long to speak the words of forgiveness that should be spoken, to set aside the hatreds that should be banished, to express thanks, to give encouragement, to offer comfort.

We wait too long to be charitable. Too much of our giving is delayed until much of the need has passed and the joy of giving has largely been diminished.

A magazine cartoon shows two old women draped in rags shivering over a meager fire. One asks, "What are you thinking about?" The other answers, "About the nice warm clothes the rich will be giving us next summer."

We wait too long to be parents to our children forgetting how brief is the time during which they are children, how swifely life urges them on and away. We wait too long to express our concern for parents, siblings, and dear ones. Who knows how soon it will be too late?

We wait too long to read the books, to listen to the music, and to see the art waiting to enlarge our minds, to enrich our spirits and to expand our souls.

We wait too long to utter the prayers that are waiting to cross our lips, to perform the duties waiting to be discharged, to show the love that may no longer be needed tomorrow. We wait too long in the wings when life has a part for us to play on the stage.

God, too, is waiting waiting for us to stop waiting, and to begin to do now all the things for which this day and this life have been given to us.