July 19, 2011


John Milton closed his poem, “On His Blindness” with the now famous line: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  Presumably, the words are meant to give hope to those who feel useless because of some impediment like blindness or paralysis or a crippling disease.

Meaning no disrespect to the seriousness of Milton’s intent, I’ve observed his words describe the demands of ordinary life as well. Last Friday, for example, I went to the neighborhood bookstore and was lucky enough to find another inexpensive copy of a Murakami novel. Hurrying to the register, I stood behind the post with a sign that read, “Wait Here.” Unfortunately, the space between the counter and the post is separated by an aisle and sometimes people unfamiliar with the system or who are indifferent to it or who don’t read signs are likely to cut in. That leaves law-abiding citizens to swallow their discontent or spoil their day by making a fuss. In my case, two people wedged in ahead of me before I reached the counter.  

I don’t have much luck with lines at grocery stores, either. Like everyone else, I wheel my shopping cart up and down the line of registers looking for a quick exit.   Inevitably, when I find a short one, the woman ahead of me whips out her credit card to buy a packet of gum and the card malfunctions. She enters it into the computer a second and third time with no success before the clerk offers his assistance. He has no luck either and calls the manager. She appears and swipes the card a few more times before returning it to the woman, advising her to call the bank. Next, the customer scratches at the bottom of her purse in search of a pen and ID so she can write a check. Meanwhile, shoppers at other registers, who’ve been standing in longer lines, make their exit out the sliding glass doors.  I’m left with the distinction of having to stand in the shortest line for the longest amount of time.

Everyone’s life is fraught with potholes, large and small. But if I had my education to do over again, I’D get a military degree from West Point or Sandhurst. Soldiers are taught to stand and wait, aren’t they?

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