The Wisdom of Waiting
I knew better, but I went ahead and did it anyway. Yesterday I tried to glue together wood parts that were swollen and too big to fit into each other any more. And it didn’t go well.
Did you know that wood swells when the air gets humid? I did, but I acted like I didn’t. Because I didn’t want to wait another day. I just wanted to get this dining table done so I could deliver it and move on to the next piece.
Early last week, when I made the all the parts and their perfectly-fitted joints, the humidity was averaging about 40%. It was cold so I had the doors closed and the wood stove churning, which means that in my shop it was more like 25%. Then it warmed up Thursday and I threw open the doors to enjoy it. I mistakenly left them open overnight and all day Friday, when the humidity spiked to 100%.
So yesterday I arrived to find that none of the things that used to fit into the other things did anymore. The tenons (male) wouldn’t go into their mortises (female), the panels wouldn’t slide into their slots.
Which left three choices:
1. I could modify all the parts, sand them down so they would fit. But then, once the humidity dropped again, they’d un-swell and be loose. Not good.
2. Or I could close the doors and turn on the dehumidifier and wait a day or two and come back. Wait? What else you got?
3. Or I could just go ahead and glue it all up, use a combination of hard rubber mallets and heavy steel clamps to force it all together.
You already know what I did. I went straight to that mental place where arrogance and impatience intersect, and there I found my decision. I gathered the clamps, glue, and mallets. I stood up tall and drew a deep breath, felt a calm strength move through my bones, took a table leg in one strong hand a bottle of glue in the other, and completely screwed everything up. The leg, the panel, the crosspieces, the rest of my day, my happiness. All of it, ruined.
Because when enough force is applied to a piece of wood — say, the force of a steel clamp that’s being torqued by a desperate, weeping man who by now is screaming, “Please, please just go together!! I’m begging you!!!” — that piece of wood can actually break. Shatter, in fact. It doesn’t matter if it’s a piece he’s spent several days carefully crafting and sanding to perfection. Wood doesn’t care. Just like everything, wood has limits.
As does my intelligence, apparently.
So I broke it, because I forced it. Hours later, after several attempts to salvage the broken pieces and my shattered mood, I gave up and just left.
I returned this morning and considered the damaged parts. Which ones could be saved, which would be complete re-dos. I shook my head in defeat, then walked across the shop to the next group of parts waiting to be assembled. I picked them up, tried them out, and they slid together perfectly. Of course they did. The humidity in the shop had been back down around 30% for a day now. I glued them together, easily, in about twenty minutes.
The annoying thing about virtues, like patience for example, is that their voices are so much quieter than the voices of stupidity. Patience puts a gentle hand on my shoulder and whispers calmly, “Just wait, Mark. Give it time, things will get better, conditions will improve.” Then stupidity grabs my arm and spins me around and screams in my face, “Go! Just do it! Now!!!” It’s spitting as it yells, it’s eyes are wide and full of fear. Veins are popping out of its trembling, red neck. I have to do what it says.
In my 45 years I’ve obeyed the screeching voice of stupidity way more than I want to admit. I’ve crammed parts together that weren’t ready to fit, I’ve forced conversations that weren’t ready to happen, I’ve pushed people who weren’t ready to move. Usually because I was just tired of waiting, and because I didn’t really respect the things and the people I was forcing.
And, maybe most of all, because I didn’t have faith that God would soon make conditions better, but only according to her own timing.
I hope that the older I get, the more I will learn to wait. To wait for a hole in traffic before I pull onto the highway. To wait for the enchiladas to finish cooking all the way, even though the kids are whining and hungry. To wait until my head has cleared and my heart has calmed before attempting that tricky conversation. To give a friend the time and space to adjust to new realities rather than forcing decisions.
To wait until the humidity drops before gluing those parts together.
Because I can’t control the humidity, or the traffic, or the rate at which enchiladas cook, or the shifts in the heart of someone I love.
Patience is not an exercise in virtuosity, not really. I don’t think it’s as lofty as all that. I think the ability to wait is just smart, it’s an acknowledgement of the truth that I really only have control over a small drop of water in the great river of life. That if I force my way into the flow before it’s my turn, I can do some pretty big damage.
That if I truly want things to turn out for the best, if it’s not just about me and my ego, I might need to just….wait.