On Waiting: A Meditation on Waiting Rooms by Sara Lukinson

Sara Lukinson is a three-time Emmy award winning writer and documentary filmmaker best known for her biographical films of artists, including the films she produced for the “Kennedy Center Honors” for thirty years. Her work has been featured on network specials, PBS and HBO.  Her essay "Into the Arms of Strangers" appears in the Fall 2017 issue of the Intima.

Sara Lukinson is a three-time Emmy award winning writer and documentary filmmaker best known for her biographical films of artists, including the films she produced for the “Kennedy Center Honors” for thirty years. Her work has been featured on network specials, PBS and HBO.  Her essay "Into the Arms of Strangers" appears in the Fall 2017 issue of the Intima.

Oh Sean, dear Sean, author of  “Waiting” (Intima, Spring 2017), I have been in that same waiting room, paced in the wings of limbo where you want the thousand pinpricks of not-knowing to end, but please don’t let it end that way. Make it be a different story. Make it not be the ending I could not bear.  

What your piece managed to do so well was make those feelings leap out of your stuttering heart and onto the page, to let us know what it feels like to have your heart turn over a million miles a second. Your piece was, by its very nature, a melancholy song and yet, it was also so full of love for your mother. Brimming over. How can we know how much we love someone until that ground-giving-way moment when we’re told, wait for it, death may be coming for them.

I think the point of connection and recognition between Sean’s fictional piece and my essay “Into the Arms of Strangers” (Fall 2017 Intima) is that for a year and half I hovered in those waiting rooms for my sister. Alone, in a city where we knew no one,and where she and I were taken into arms of strangers.

No one, not even someone you love, can fill the hollowness. Still you cannot walk this alone. You need a witness, an errand goer, a soft presence, a light in the hallway. Someone who brings you tea or clean clothes, whose eyes will look back into yours.

When I looked up from all the waiting rooms, I found a communion of once-strangers waiting to help me. Some were caretakers from the hospital, others volunteers or new neighbors in our little rental apartment. A presence when we needed them, withdrawing when we didn’t. But always ready to be there. All during the waiting, they sustained me and lit the days. Otherwise, it would have been just fog and ice.

To those who see us in those waiting rooms, be you a friend or a stranger, you cannot change the ending, you cannot placate the ambivalence of our waiting, but do not look away. We need to know you are there. Say nothing, say something, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we know a hand will be there for us when we are ready to reach for it. That human kindness will be there when all else seems to have been lost.


Sara Lukinson is a three-time Emmy award winning writer and documentary filmmaker best known for her biographical films of artists, including the films she produced for the “Kennedy Center Honors” for thirty years. Her work has been featured on network specials, PBS and HBO. She’s written for many national cultural events including New York City’s annual 9/11 Ceremonies at Ground Zero and edited “September Morning,” a collection of the poetry she used in the 9/ll Ceremonies. Her personal essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Nexttribe. She will be teaching a course at NYU in reading autobiography, what she calls, inside the heart and soul of another. She lives in New York City.

© 2017 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine