By Shelley Luedtke
How long would you stand in line to meet a celebrity, to check out the latest thrill ride, or buy the newest iPhone? Would any amount of time be warranted?
It’s funny what we’ll stand in line for. Or what we won’t. More interesting yet is our attitude toward the line-up. Temperaments tend to be quite different depending on what awaits us at the end. When Cedar Point Amusement Park unveiled its first winged roller coaster people waited four hours for the two-minute thrill. Yet some supermarkets feel compelled to post signs assuring customers they will have sufficient check-outs open so shoppers won’t have to wait.
While some Americans were willing to stand as long as it took to vote during the midterms, others said any line that stretched outside a building was a deterrent. I couldn’t help but think back a few weeks earlier when line-ups stretched for blocks and blocks as people waited to purchase lottery tickets on jackpots that soared to new heights.
There are many things I have willingly stood in line for: theme park attractions, concerts, busy restaurants, and to vote. But at the end of each of those lines something was waiting for me—something I had chosen to do. I have never had to wait in line for… survival.
My husband and I got to know an older couple from Eastern Europe who shared stories describing their lives before and after a revolution that ousted a dictator. We were humbled by how different our lives were in North America. Viorel was a retired engineer who also played violin with the national orchestra. I found it fascinating talking to a man who spent his professional life in such an analytical and technical career, who also spoke with such passion as he took us past the concert hall where he had performed the masterpieces of classical music. Even though he and his wife were better off than many others, he spoke of the lines in which he had stood to get bread for his family. Every morning he left very early, while his family slept, so he could move through the line before the supply ran out. He had known scarcity and hunger, and those line-ups were a necessity for survival. Even years after the revolution, and when the supply was more plentiful, he continued this long-established custom of leaving his home in the early morning so he could bring home some food.
The line-ups most of us find ourselves in are by choice: to snag tickets for an event, to clear security at a public venue, to be amongst the first to take advantage of a great bargain. But imagine standing in line for food rations--or water. Questioning if there will be enough by the time you get to the front. The waiting is one thing. The wondering is the other. Wondering when the supply will run out. Wondering if you and your family will be without.
Two men are waiting. Waiting in two very different lines. Both are fathers. Both have one thing on their mind—feeding their families. One is standing with his wife and children in a restaurant wondering why it is taking so long to be seated. The other is standing alone, having left his wife and children at what now passes for shelter. He has walked many miles to a food distribution center. The longer the first man waits the more irritated he gets and says he won’t be leaving much of a tip. The longer the second waits the more worried he is the aid truck will run out of rice.
The difference between lining up to be entertained or to shop versus lining up for the basics of survival is profound. The next time we find ourselves in a long or slow moving line we can maybe take a moment and ponder its significance. Instead of impatience we could find ourselves saying, “This is a line-up I am so lucky to be in.” That's my outlook.
By Shelley Luedtke