In a recent conversation with a college senior, I listened as she lamented the bleak results of her job search.  Her fear of not having a “real job” after graduation was building each day.  Then she continued with, “In the meantime,” and went on to describe her plan to move from campus housing into an inexpensive apartment and to increase her part-time hours to make ends meet.  This, she believed, would help her get through that undetermined stretch of time between graduation and a “real job.”  I admired her resourcefulness in the face of her fear and disappointment, and I told her so.

Her words got me thinking.  “In the meantime.”  Isn’t that where much of life transpires?  It’s easy for me to imagine life will really begin once I get around the next corner. “Once I get through with this project.” “Once I get that promotion,”  “As soon as I get this debt paid off.”  “Once my child graduates.”  Yet, life continues to unfold while I am waiting, and what unfolds “in the meantime” is every bit as much of life as what I imagine I am waiting for.  I have to remind myself that to wait “until” is to miss what’s happening now, the only part of my life available to me.  “In the meantime” continues to present us with all the challenge most of us need.  We continue to face tragedies and causes for celebration, we experience gains and losses, and we have tender and conflictual moments with loved ones during the days that pass “in the meantime.”

This particular “meantime” seems to be more characterized by crisis and conflict than most times—nationally and internationally, financially, environmentally, and personally.  In fact, the world around us seems to promote a crisis-oriented perspective.  The media thrives on it, and it’s contagious.  Before long the crisis is all we can see.  “When this economic chaos settles down.” “When this election is over.”  “When Bin Laden is captured.”  These national and global issues only intensify our personal dramas.

When we live with a crisis orientation, we are more often prompted by fear than by clear thinking.  When that happens we lose sight of possibilities and resources.  Living in the meantime does not mean being naively optimistic.  Nor does it mean living in oblivion to what’s going on.  Rather, it means living with a full awareness of what’s going on, but seeing a bigger picture that includes not only the crisis but also the possibilities of how to live in the midst of crisis.  Living in the meantime acknowledges the fear but is not paralyzed by it.  We all live in the meantime.  We have no choice.  The task is to recognize it and make choices accordingly.  Charlotte Joko Beck wrote, “We have sacrificed our life in this moment in order to think of things that are not present.”

A very tangible example took place in my office regularly.  Many college students came to me terrified that they were not going to do well on an important exam.  Their performance on the exam had implications for their overall grade which could potentially impact their degree and their future plans.  I always tried to get them back to the principle, “How you study for the exam tonight is a better predictor of your grade, and your future, than all the worry you can muster.”

Are these global and personal crisis issues important?  Absolutely.  Do these issues deserve our best thoughts, efforts, and choices?  Yes, indeed.  Yet, how we live “in the meantime” is the best predictor of how we will deal with the crises as they unfold.