It is a very specific feeling, waiting in line for a drive through COVID test.
Like waiting for a pregnancy test or waiting to hear if a loved one made it out of surgery safely. Waiting while someone is born or someone dies.
You just don’t know what will happen. Or when. You can do nothing, but wait.
Strung between one threshold and another, it’s a liminal place. Between one status and another. One season and another. It’s not one thing or the other. But something else in between, in the waiting.
You meet yourself in the waiting.
A nice man in protective gear comes out of a temporary trailer office placed beside the kind of tent they use at funerals and tailgate parties. The tent looks worn and run down. So does the man. He asks me, “Why are you getting tested?”
“I was exposed to someone who tested positive 3 days ago at a party. We had a lovely conversation without masks, I can’t remember for how long. Less than 15 minutes, I think?”
“No symptoms? No fever?”
“No.” He swabs my nose and tells me to park in spot 15.
I park under a “maple tree that turned bright red with anxiety,” which is how E.B. White describes a maple tree at the end of summer in Charlotte’s Web. “Turned bright red with anxiety.” The line stays with me, like those lines do when the mind is open. I wait for an hour or so.
I study my dashboard thoroughly, and my thoughts. There is nothing else to do.
In the waiting, I feel hollow, like whatever is in me is being scraped out. My fear, my hope, my plans.
I’ve waited before, for months. I’ve waited with the children, in the wrong sort of specialist’s office, on the hunt for life-changing diagnoses. I’ve waited for new projects to cut loose at Builder-husband’s work so I knew we could feed our family. Build a future.
I’ve waited for birth and death. I’ve always been particularly sensitive to the waiting. The pregnant void of it, where my soul expands to fit all possibilities and probabilities and I shrink because I see exactly what it is that I control in my life, just myself. And self, I think right now, is only what I truly, actually, really believe.
The waiting shows you who you are and who you think God is.
Occasionally, when I’ve waited, God himself shows up. I think it’s him, anyway. He’s always more potent and terrifying in the waiting. He’s the God behind the God I thought I knew. A bigger, more expansive one. The spirit that hovered over the waters, brooding, yearning, waiting to call something new out of the chaos.
Or is that me? Is that my spirit, longing for that?
For a brief second, it feels like every nerve tendril of my body is alert and alive.
Turkey vultures spiral on a thermal right above my windshield.
I open my hands and say that old verse, “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
My hands are open and empty, so is my mind, so is my heart. I must be most teachable in the waiting because it is then that I am the emptiest, the most ready to receive.
Thomas Merton writes, “Hope empties our hands in order that we may work with them. It shows us that we have something to work for, and teaches us how to work for it.”
This is the God that meets me in the waiting, the God of hope, who empties my hands, so I can get to work.
The work I want to do, the work I must do.
I wait longer and longer. I think the most grounding thought any human can think: “the kids will be hungry when I get home.” I start a grocery list. Because the kids are always hungry. That spirit hovering over the waters softens. Is it gone? I wonder. Or just quieter? Steadier? More ordinary.
The turkey vultures still soar above me.
Sometime later, the nice man comes to the car next to me, a black 1990s bronco.
“You’re all negative.”
“Well, hallelujah,” the driver says, and the three people in the backseat laugh and clap, relieved. He hands them a paper with discharge instructions.
He comes to my window next, “You’re negative. You’re clear. The test is 97% accurate. Keep a watch out for symptoms just in case. Wash your hands, wear a mask. Have a great day.” He hands me my paper. I see his name is Zach
He trundles back inside his trailer, hands open and empty, to get more swabs, cars wrap around the building. He continues his work.