By Jean Fitzpatrick
Le Trung, a Toronto inventor, has built himself a robot girlfriend. Aiko, who speaks about 13,000 sentences in Japanese and English, can do the cleaning, mix his favorite drink, and read him the newspaper headlines. She does algebra, trig and geometry, and tells the weather in foreign cities. Did I mention she has silicone breasts? Apparently after a heart attack Le Trung worried that he'd need someone to care for him in his old age. He couldn't wait to meet a real, live woman. Just couldn't wait.
These days in my psychotherapy practice, I'm hearing a lot about waiting. "How long am I going to feel this way?" says one woman, grieving after her fiancé left her and acutely aware of her biological clock's ticking.
"When will I meet someone I can have a real relationship with?" says a gay man sick of the dating scene.
"It's tough, not knowing yet what he'll decide, where we'll end up," says a woman working hard to mend a broken marriage. Nobody has raised the idea of creating a silicone robot. Mostly they're longing for a flesh-and-blood person to share coffee and a bagel with before rushing off to work, as long as they're lucky enough to still have a job. They're looking at the empty side of the bed and longing for someone to fill it with warmth and connection.
I can't say anybody has mentioned Advent. Too bad, as most of us have noticed, that the idea of a penitential season before Christmas doesn't play too well with ordinary civilians. Thanks to centuries of bad p.r., the whole idea tends to sound to the average person experiencing loss like a church plan to kick a person who's already down while everybody else is out whooping it up with Christmas sales and eggnog. Even Advent as a time of inner preparation for the joyous birth of hope leaves some people cold; when times are hard, it's not always easy to imagine oneself into the story of the infant in the manger. The hope of Christmas morning can sound like the ultimate bailout plan that collapsed.
In today's culture, when we find ourselves waiting -- not getting what we want -- most of us think there must be something wrong. Aren't we supposed to make things happen for ourselves? Aren't we supposed to be all that we can be? If I'm waiting for something I don't have yet, am I a loser? We end up angry, off-center, as though we've been robbed of something.
We all have experiences of dislocation and loss, of course, every single one of us. Every human life includes experiences of not-having, of not-there-yet, of doors closing. Absence, loss, and emptiness all drizzle like rain on the just and the unjust, and sometimes they pour. That's when it's helpful to recall, as Bill Tully pointed out in a recent, eloquent message to his flock at St. Bart's, that the Advent reference to coming signals not only the imminent birth of the babe in the manger, but points us toward end times and ultimate concerns. While we wait, we have a chance to feel the ground under our feet, to discover and experience what the Buddhist clinical psychologist Tara Brach calls the "sacred pause" and weave it into daily life.
Most of us find less-than-healthy ways to take that pause. People who have quit smoking often tell me that what they miss is those languid moments of time away from activities during the day. I just discovered that "The pause that refreshes," a phrase that's been running through my mind lately, was Coca-Cola's advertising slogan in none other than 1929.
When we stop trying to avoid the emptiness or thrash around in it or fill it up, and instead honor and walk with it -- with all the heaviness and slowness of a pregnant woman bumping along on a donkey -- we discover that we are not alone. Finding our way through the anger and hurt and fear, we are freed to simply feel. And watch. And wait.
Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth and has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.