Anticipation. It keeps me waiting — thank goodness.

John Kelly
Columnist February 27, 2012

Hurry up! Order ahead! Many convenient locations! Open 24 hours! Drive-through! Get it now! No waiting! No waiting! No waiting!

We live in an age of instant gratification. Any book can be downloaded. Any question can be Googled. Any itch can be scratched. “I want it, and I want it now” no longer seems like a petulant demand but a reasonable expectation.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

But maybe there’s something to be said for waiting, for the perversely pleasurable experience of . . . anticipation.

Waiting has been on my mind lately. I’m waiting for some film to be developed. That’s right: film, that fragile, finicky and now-obsolete repository of memories. I have a digital point-and-shoot camera, a digital SLR camera and a camera in my phone that would make Henri Cartier-Bresson drool. Each records high-definition video. Each shows me exactly what I saw, seconds after I saw it. I need a film camera as much as I need a strop to sharpen a straight razor or a penknife to cut a nib on a goose feather.

But a few months ago I was going through a box in the attic and found two rolls of Kodak Super 8 movie film. Penciled on the side in my adolescent hand was my name. I’d shot them 35 years ago, when I was 13 or 14 years old and my family was living in Texas. It was as if I’d discovered two tiny time machines, little three-minute portals to the past.

Well, potential portals. Three decades of moving from attic to basement and to attic again are not kind on film. And who could even develop it and transfer it to DVD?

I found a company called Film Rescue International. It’s in North Dakota, of all places, and once a month it makes a batch of chemicals and gets to work. If the company can raise moving pictures from this old film it will seem as amazing to me as confronting a ghost on the parapets of Elsinore Castle.

But first I have to wait. This six-week period lets me time-travel in my mind. I screen images on the scrim of my memory, trying to imagine what is on those two rolls. Is it my brother and his friends atop their banana-seated bikes? Is it our dog, a smallish piebald mutt who would bolt whenever the fence was left open? It is my parents, younger then than I am now? Is it me?

The chemical bath may reveal nothing more than murk and fog, but waiting has made that time nearly real again.

I once read the routine starting instructions for a motor car from some time in the early 1900s. Owners were directed to warm the engine oil in a metal container and then pour it into the crankcase. Driving a car back then was preceded by ritual. These days you needn’t even waste five seconds inserting and turning the key. Your magic fob tells the car you’re inside, and you push a button to bring the engine to life. Hurry up! Get it now!

I’m not saying that everything should have the drawn-out drama of a Japanese tea ceremony. Obviously, if you need a kidney, you don’t want to be hanging around waiting. If you’re being chased through the woods by a homicidal maniac, you don’t want to have to warm your engine oil before starting your car.

And yet waiting gives us time to reflect, to ponder. Waiting is the foreplay that makes the eventual encounter so much more enjoyable.

This morning, I noticed the shoots of tulip bulbs rising in my front garden. I planted them last fall, digging up the front bed, shoveling the dirt into a massive pile and then carefully placing the bulbs in the soil. I covered the bulbs with their earthen blanket and bade them a restful sleep.

When they were out of sight, napping in the ground, I didn’t think of them. And suddenly, here they are — or here they are starting. Tightly-furled shoots are pushing through the soil, their green shafts brushed with hints of red.

I’ve never had tulips before. I see these in my mind’s eye: tall, colorful, perfect. . . .

Is that what they will really look like? I don’t know. I’ll just have to wait and see.

To read previous columns by John Kelly, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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