The reflections of Jan Richardson always delight and enrich me. This piece I meditated on today seems particularly apt nourishment for us now.
Richardson reflects on Hildegard von Bingen’s work, Scivias, in which the mystic personifies virtues. “Longing stands next to Patience,” says Hildegard, and Richardson reflects, “Yes, and I am wedged in between them. How do Patience and Longing live together in you?”
A question for us to ponder as well.
“Longing stands next to Patience”
Longing would sometimes like to be assigned a different spot. Would like to be less near this one who approaches everything with such equanimity. Would like some distance from the measured way that Patience marks time, holds herself with such politeness toward its passing. Patience knows this about Longing. Accepts it, even loves it about her. This makes Longing crazy. Patience has not told her she has some envy of Longing’s perfect ache or that she thinks it must be an art to hold oneself so perpetually poised toward the horizon. For her part, Longing has not confessed that there are days she finds Patience restful. Soothing. A relief. Meanwhile, by little and by little, so slowly its appearance will startle them both, a horizon is drawing near.
May Longing and Patience teach you by turns: not just the fire but the tending of it, not just the well but the digging; not just the vision but the enduring it asks, by day and by darkness drawing us on.
In the Sanctuary of Women: A Companion for Reflection and Prayer by Jan L. Richardson
I entered the YMCA swimming pool earlier than usual today, desperate to heal from the strident rancor that stalked me through the written word, spoken word, unspoken word, words, words, words. No escape here. As I sank into the comfort of the hot tub, the blaring voice of Thursday’s aerobics instructor reverberated through the space, shattering my renewal attempt. “Let it go,” I told myself, “In twenty minutes she’s out of here.” I began my hour’s swim and instead of leaving with her class, the instructor lingered through “my” hour, engaged in a non-stop decibel-enhanced monologue with a captivated swimmer.
Workout ended and instructor gone, I sank back into the comfort of the hot tub, silence ensuing throughout the pool. Two deaf women joined me, signing sparingly, enjoying their time. Blissful silence wrapped around me like a child’s blankie warding off a nightmare.
A familiar thought pushed its way into consciousness. “I wish I were deaf. I hardly hear as it is, yet some sounds are physically painful…might as well take it all.” If my deaf companions could have read my thoughts I can guess their response. “It’s a privilege to be here,” they would say. “Its a privilege to be here as we are. It’s a privilege for you to be here just as you are.” Savor what you have. Savor who you are.”
I wrap a blanket of silence
around my battered psyche,
snuggling into its warm comfort
where I conjure the resilience
to surface in the world
Life in 55+ housing has no dull moments. I’ve lived on the sixth floor of such a building for two years, and the adjustment has run the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous, sometimes all on the same day! The elevator provides a rich assortment of spiritual practices around patience and compassion with others and oneself. For example, I’m learning to laugh at myself after I have walked halfway around a hallway in search of my apartment which is on another floor. Hey. If I’m having a lively chat with a neighbor who gets off on floor five, why not continue the conversation? You would think that by now I would have memorized the paintings in front of the elevator on each floor, or at least, look at the floor number before I get off. Then there’s moving days, when through no fault of their own, departing tenants hold up the elevator on their floor. Patience. Tenants on wheels slow things down. Tenants standing in the open door talking or holding it for someone down the hall slow me down. Several times a day I have to let go. It’s ever so good for me; however, my internal dialogue can become quite colorful at times.
We have a custom of putting out unwanted items by the elevator for anyone to pick up. When my cat died I put out her little pink carrier and it was gone within ten minutes. So, on Saturday someone on my floor put out an antique end table with three drawers which I thought could nicely replace the inadequate one I had. I carried it to my apartment and rearranged everything. Excited to re-gift the end table I replaced, I put it out by the elevator. Finally, I settled down to read with all my accoutrements neatly organized nearby. Alas, within the hour I had an allergic reaction. The end table had mold in it. Upon examination, I also discovered a dangling leg. Another opportunity to learn patience. I decided to try taking the high road. I’ll retrieve my inadequate end table and take this one down to the recycling, I thought. I went in search, and you guessed it, the table had already been snatched up. My disappointment was eased by the knowledge that I helped out someone else, just as I thought I was being helped out. The office opening at day’s start yesterday, found me there checking out a cart to take the broken and moldy table downstairs. Outside my apartment, where the table sat, I met Mandy, the house cleaner. She asked what I planned to do with the table. I told her. “Oh, she said, I’ll take it for my daughter’s room. I’m a cabinet maker. I can fix this easily.” And she already had decorating plans for it.
There are days that I long for my spacious condo, sans elevator, but I wouldn’t miss these little opportunities to let go, for the world. I’m convinced that we grow old the way we live. Life in a 55+ is the playground of the sublime and the ridiculous.
One year after the unexpected death of my sister I still step gingerly. When we grieve we learn that all we CAN do is step out. If we step in harmony with the pain, we become sure-footed. The pain transforms from foe to friend, and we endure in spite of the loss.
My spiritual practice has been intentionality. I ask for the grace to stay conscious, to recognize each wave of grief and to honor my humanity by feeling it. It has also helped me to be aware of my sister’s continued presence in a new way. I have prayed for her spirit as she transitions into this new and unknown existance. And I have practiced letting her go.
Two gifts have emerged from this experience: reinforcement that the ice holds, and realization that we are not in control. Now I try to live into these truths, and to be in solidarity with others who grieve.