As today began throughout Baltimore and Maryland, people perfected the art of waiting.
The midnight deadline set by the United Nations for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait came and went with no immediate reaction from Iraq or the United States. Yet people felt compelled to watch the clock, to mark the hour's passing.
People who usually were asleep by midnight, who had trouble staying awake to see the ball drop on New Year's Eve, sat watching Cable News Network or one of the major television networks, observing a joyless countdown.
These are scenes from the brink of what has been called the first "get ready-get set-go -- war":
* With the television on in the background of her Glen Burnie home, Bonnie Raab spent the evening writing a love letter to her husband, Ronald Raab Jr., a specialist in the National Guard's 290th Battalion.
It was the same kind of letter she always writes, a sweet, matter-of-fact love letter about day-to-day life, what she ate for dinner, how her work was at the nursing home.
"It makes me feel closer to him," she said. She married him Dec. 1, days before he was deployed to Saudi Arabia.
Her husband has written to her almost every day, telling her about the desert weather and how the fine sand gets into everything. He asks about her health and their first child, due in May.
"I don't know what kind of letters I'll be getting now, or how many," she said. "I'm wondering right now where they are, what they're doing."
* Eighth-grader Lisa Baugher walked out of MacArthur Middle School at Fort Meade between classes yesterday to protest the use of military force in the Persian Gulf.
"A lot of parents think kids don't care about the war," said Lisa, 13. "That's not true. I'm scared. I'm afraid they'll take over this country. I don't know if it'll really happen. I just know I don't want anyone to die."
Lisa and her classmates planned the walkout Monday. One-third of MacArthur's students are the children of enlisted men or women.
School officials said they would discipline those who left and blocked the doors.
Fifteen minutes after the scheduled 10:30 a.m. walkout, Lisa left the school and crossed a parking lot to talk to a reporter. She was alone.
She could receive a five-day suspension.
"I'm not scared because my mom knows," Lisa said. "I told her I was going to do this. I don't want there to be a war."
* As an organist played "Come Home," the Rev. Edwin A. Ankeny's tears glistened in the light that filtered through stained glass windows at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church.
An 11th-hour prayer vigil, prompted by parishioner Sharon Kitchen, was held yesterday in the 119-year-old Gothic church. Kitchen and Ankeny have sons in the gulf.
"At this point, it's in [God's] hands and I have to let it go," Ankeny said. "It's an awesome feeling to know that the 17th day of August may have been the last time I saw my son."
Jerry Ankeny, 25, is a West Point graduate stationed near the prospective combat zone. He commands 15 men and four M-1 tanks.
He last called on Christmas Eve. His father was visiting a parishioner in a hospital and missed the call. Jerry Ankeny was to be married this weekend. His father is praying for his safety.
"I suppose it would be a shock to some people, but I get to the point where I yell at God," Ankeny said. "Then there is just sort of a feeling of inner satisfaction that God is in control. I feel anger, fear. There are tears. Sometimes I walk and pace. I listen to classical music and sometimes I have to get in the car and drive, alone."
Said Kitchen: "It seems the best place to be now is at church. This is like you're sitting on death row, waiting for a reprieve."
* "Maybe it'll just be better if it finally happens and I don't have to worry about it," sighed Donna Jones, of Westminster.
She and her husband, Roosevelt, who served 24 years in the Army and Air Force, can deal with war. But waiting for it is hard because their 25-year-old son, Stephen, is stationed with the Army in Saudi Arabia.
"We had a lot of friends who went to Vietnam," she said, "and we had a lot of friends who didn't come back." She still wears a POW bracelet.
"All you can do about it is pray," she said. "You say your prayers, ask God to intervene and if he doesn't, you say, 'Your will be done.' And hope that you can handle it."
* At Howard and Dolphin streets, a saxophone played and anti-war protesters sang "Precious Lord," the favorite song of the slain civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
More than 200 people had gathered yesterday in front of the 5th Regiment Armory on North Howard Street to rally against a war they called unjust and to remind spectators that Jan. 15 was more than a deadline. They had marched from Union Baptist Church on Druid Hill Avenue.
"This is a birthday rally for Dr. King," the Rev. Daki Napata, a community activist, said hoarsely. King would have been 62 yesterday.