Browse Topics



Life On Hold
An Essay by Andrei Codrescu

audio Listen to Codrescu's essay.

We Americans don't like waiting. In the country of instant gratification, waiting is unbearable. So we don't usually wait. We make phone calls and set up meetings when the new batch of fries at McDonald's isn't out yet. We don't like lines, but if we have to be in them, like when the new "Harry Potter" comes in, we bring out tents, little TVs and electronic games to pass the time. Idle hands are the devil's work, so we've banished idleness and don't much value indolence and lassitude, either. We credit our prosperity to our speed and efficiency, even if it sometimes comes at the expense of prudence and deliberation.

We find it even harder now to wait for something to happen. While the high councils of the land are making decisions that will affect our lives for years to come, we find it impossible to stay put. It would be nice to get back to normal, but everything we used to do seems very different now. Some of it seems downright insignificant. We look over the list of things to do, from before 9-11-2001 and shrug our shoulders. What in the world made us think any of it was urgent?

To pass the time we fire back and forth e-mails asking all our friends if they're all right, whether they live in New York or Washington or not. Most of them are, physically at least. Psychologically, none of them are. They feel just like we do: powerless, waiting for news, obsessively glued to TV and radio. I cannot begin to express my admiration for the news people who keep us engaged every minute, 24 hours a day. They are heroic, intelligent, hard working and at the same time not afraid to be vulnerable and human. But it's easier for them. They are not waiting.

The Internet, too, is buzzing, but mostly to make busy noises without much substance, opinions and theories of every sort. Self-important chain letters get forwarded ad nauseam. People with little authority, moral or otherwise, are brushing off moldy, left-wing or right-wing arguments against our government. Noam Chomsky's naughty opinions and the rantings of Christopher Hitchens on the left, and Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson's apocalyptic froth on the right are all blaming America for the terror. It's unconscionable. How could they look on the faces of people who've lost loved ones and continue their callous, ideological patter?

Meanwhile, the real heroes, the New York and Washington firemen and rescuers and our news teams, keep us sane. Still we wait, and we don't like it. Inertia keeps some of us working on pre-terror projects, but our hearts aren't in it. Whatever happens next will define everything we are going to do. We will adapt old projects or start new ones from scratch. In any case, we have rarely waited this impatiently for our national life to give direction to our individual lives.

Poet Andrei Codrescu lives in New Orleans and publishes the online journal, Exquisite Corpse.