Recently I was on hold with the Water Department. I needed to change my billing address because I had moved. At the time I was renting the house I owned in Philadelphia. For some reason the water department would not change the bill to my renter’s name so I had to get the bill and add it to the rent every month. I remember the hold music was cool jazz and was designed to have no beginning or end. It just seamlessly repeated itself over and over. I recall listening to an episode of “This American Life” where someone was on hold with similar music. They posited that the music was designed so that the listener did not experience the passage of time and therefore did not realize how long they had been on hold.
Sometimes I find myself waiting at a red light and it seems like the light has been red too long. I start to wonder if the timing mechanism on the light is broken. After a period of time I have to make a decision whether I should run the red light or to continue waiting. Running the red light means breaking the rules. Waiting carries with it the possibility that I am being foolish in some way. And so I am left in an unsatisfying limbo.
I just published an e-book. Some friends of mine said they would read it. I have not heard back from them and am left to wonder, did they read it? If so, are they not getting back to me because they did not like it and either do not care or do not want to hurt my feelings. Similarly, I hate sending out an email to someone and they simply do not respond. It makes me feel like I am unimportant. It makes me feel like they think their time is intrinsically more important than my time. Thinking about this makes me angry. It touches my shame and brings up past hurts.
Of course most of this is just my shame ego messing with me. The Water Department is a bureaucracy staffed by government employees punching the clock. I am no more or less important to them than any other caller. The red light is a mindless, mechanical contraption (at least for now) and has no agenda or motivation to shame me. My friends have their own lives and of course their time is more valuable to them than my time is valuable to them. It would be ridiculous to think otherwise. Just as my time is more important to me than their time is important to me. But when there is a lack of information my shame ego fills the vacuum. As will all things connected with my shame ego, awareness of this dynamic is helpful. But awareness does not really erase my impatience. I suppose I must chalk this one up to samsara (life is suffering) and of course I have some nostalgic longing for life not to be like this. As the Buddha said, life is suffering and the cause of suffering is desire. Not that I am a Buddhist but I do think there is some truth to it. Perhaps I am continuously being reincarnated like that hold music the water department plays on the telephone.