Technology, Culture, & Emotional Intelligence

O’Tarry: How to Find Joy in Waiting

Don’t miss the moment you’re in.

O’Tarry: How to Find Joy in Waiting
Photo by Justin Lim / Unsplash

I want you to think of the last time had to wait for something you really wanted. An anticipated reunion with family or friends. A raise at work. Longing for a future life season. Perhaps you are in the middle of a season like this right now. I wonder, what emotions do you experience in seasons of waiting?

Seasons of waiting — called “liminal” spaces — can certainly be painful and frustrating. Often, they are made all the more difficult because of the assumptions of our age. We are used to having our needs and wants met quickly. From two-day shipping to bottomless libraries of entertainment, we don’t typically expect to wait long to get what we want. When we do have to wait, exposure to the lives of others lead us to believe that something in our life has gone wrong. “Why do I have to wait,” we might ask, “when it seems like everyone else has everything they want?”

In the midst of my own liminal frustrations, I’ve returned several times to a phrase you’re unlikely to hear much today: “O’Tarry.” Tarry is an old word about waiting, but unlike the word “liminal,” which refers to a season of life, the word “tarry” is something more like a request. Even a command. It’s as if the person you will be on the other side of this season is looking back upon you from the future and begging you — even commanding you — “just hold on a little while longer!” And along with this plea for patience comes an even more subtle request: an encouragement not to miss the moment you’re in now.

While I am certainly no poetry aficionado, I was recently struck by the use of “O’tarry” in a famous Oscar Wilde poem. Writing about the change from the agrarian age to the industrial age in which he lived — from an age of perceived innocence, connection to nature, and quiet to one of productivity, toil, and industry — Wilde charges the part of us that can recall the sweetness of the old and the pure not to forget.

“Spirit of Beauty, tarry yet awhile!
Although the cheating merchants of the mart
With iron roads profane our lovely isle,
And break on whirling wheels the limbs of Art,
Ay! though the crowded factories beget
The blindworm Ignorance that slays the soul, O tarry yet!”

The request to tarry is a acknowledgement that in longing for the future, we often miss the sweetness of the present. For Wilde this ironic picture took the form of an age of men who saw such promise in the growth of industry that they were willing to destroy the little things that brought joy to life. We too have the ability to long so much for the future that we miss the sweetness of our present experience:

  • Those waiting for a reunion should savor the time they get with loved ones made more precious by it’s rarity.
  • Those longing for more money or a better job will one day find themselves thankful for a past season of life that taught them to use their money wisely.
  • Couples longing for a child will may one day remember the quiet times when their days were simple and their focus was just on one another.
  • And those of us who want a new home should today remember the joy found in learning to make a home out of what we have.

Learning to tarry means we acknowledge that the achievement of desire rarely leads to its fulfillment. Each phase of life will come with its own longings. True joy is found in making the most of what we have — and enjoying each season in whatever way we can.

One day you will hopefully realize your dreams. But for now, dear reader, O’tarry yet for just a while longer.


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Jamie Larson