Life While-You-Wait / by Melanie Ida Chopko

Each week I grow in gratitude for Maria Popova, the curator of Brain Pickings, a weekly email of thoughts on what it means to be human. I realized today it is a new form of what maybe church was as a child, touching through thought and poetry that which is much larger than myself, leaving me with a sense of belonging and wonder. This week she shared Polish Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska’s Poem “Life While-You Wait" - it reminds me of Sir Thomas More's thoughts on the compassion that comes from recognizing our shared mortality: "We are all in the same cart, going to execution; how could I hate anyone or wish anyone harm?"


Life While-You-Wait

Performance without rehearsal.
Body without alterations.
Head without premeditation.

I know nothing of the role I play.
I only know it’s mine. I can’t exchange it.

I have to guess on the spot
just what this play’s all about.

Ill-prepared for the privilege of living,
I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.
I improvise, although I loathe improvisation.
I trip at every step over my own ignorance.
I can’t conceal my hayseed manners.
My instincts are for happy histrionics.
Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me more.
Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.

Words and impulses you can’t take back,
stars you’ll never get counted,
your character like a raincoat you button on the run —
the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness.

If only I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance,
or repeat a single Thursday that has passed!
But here comes Friday with a script I haven’t seen.
Is it fair, I ask
(my voice a little hoarse,
since I couldn’t even clear my throat offstage).

You’d be wrong to think that it’s just a slapdash quiz
taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no.
I’m standing on the set and I see how strong it is.
The props are surprisingly precise.
The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer.
The farthest galaxies have been turned on.
Oh no, there’s no question, this must be the premiere.
And whatever I do
will become forever what I’ve done.