Father Time is a weekly column dedicated to the concept of time in a parent’s life, particularly a father’s life. The point of view comes from a father of two young sons, both under three-years-old, and how time really is just that: a concept.
Whether his name is Buxbaum, or Bixby, or Bray, or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea, the young protagonist in the Dr. Seuss classic Oh, The Places You’ll Go, goes to some exciting and scary places along his journey. Before he’s moving mountains, he finds himself at one particular place that Dr. Seuss considers most dangerous: The Waiting Place. Where everybody is just waiting. Waiting for what exactly? You name it.
Beloved children’s poet Shel Silverstein hits on the same concept with equal force in his poem, “Traffic Light” from his classic collection Where the Sidewalk Ends. In it, drivers wait into perpetuity for a traffic signal to turn green.
Seuss and Silverstein, while presenting the concept of waiting in lyrical poetry—poetry that most child readers enjoy purely for the sound it makes—do warn of its inherent risks. The moral of these particular poems? Whatever you do, don’t wait. Make something happen as opposed to waiting for it to happen to you.
Seuss paints The Waiting Place with a dark backdrop, with the cast of characters standing around, perfectly still, their eyes wide and deadened, staring off into nothing. From the woman in her winter clothes and ski gear to the young man watching the telephone, it’s as though everyone is frozen in time anticipating the very moment that action will ensue.
Silverstein employs a similar method, in the start black and white of words on paper—no illustration—to demonstrate the end result of waiting too long. An otherwise active intersection of cars, motorcycles, and buses comes to a standstill because the light wouldn’t change, and the motorists seem perfectly content with this.
“…days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months
And there on the corner they stood
Twiddling their thumbs till the changin’ comes
The way good people should.”
In the end, the narrator describes the drivers and their hopeful gazes, “with the very same smile on their very same face” patiently still waiting.
Both Seuss and Silverstein have taken great care to bring their readers, almost always a parent reading to their child, back to the understanding that forward motion is vital to the lives of our children. As time moves ahead, we must move with it. Invent. Move. Innovate. Find where the boom bands are playing. In other words, stagnation kills.
While both authors depict the waiting characters as patient and, if anything, willing to wait, Seuss and Silverstein accept that there will be some waiting in your life, even if it’s in line to use the bathroom. However, they urge readers, to never settle for that moment when time is at a standstill.
We know already that when we add up the minutes and hours we spend waiting for something, it’s a shocking amount of time over our lifetimes. Apparently we waste three months of our lives in traffic (Slate.com, 2011). In those terms, we easily see the perils of waiting, or at least the risks of stepping away from the life that is happening around us. As Seuss and Silverstein warn us, if we don’t start happening, we give up a little bit up on ourselves. We get stuck in time, and when time is all we have in this life, waiting is pretty damn scary.
Photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker.