‘A watched pot never boils’ – that’s what my Nana used to say, meaning that the more we concentrate on a desired outcome, the longer it seems to take. She was also a fan of the phrase, ‘as soon as my back is turned’ – that one wasusually employed in relation to me pilfering sweets from her handbag when she wasn’t looking (little did I know she was alwayslooking). Now I realise have come to link the two phrases; that I watch a pot on the ring surreptitiously, out of the corner of my eye, for as soon as my back is turned it’s sure to bubble over. Many times my pasta has boiled over extinguishing the flame below or the milk pan has foamed up and left the hob in a rotten burnt mess. So I’ve learned tomaintain a level of sneaky watchfulness. But here’s the question: how does one strike a balance so that waiting isn’t turned into an obsessive preoccupation, but instead we wait whilst maintaining a subtle vigilance that allows life to go on?
Three close contacts of mine are all presently waiting, each for a different outcome. T. has been waiting for five weeks, S. for nine months and H., the queen of waiting, has been patiently counting time for almost two years. Each of them awaits something different but life altering, and I know that each would like it to happen – NOW! It will all come good, of that I’m sure, but even as someone cheering enthusiastically from the sidelines I feel impatient on their behalf and I empathise with how frustrating all of this hanging about must be. If I were in their position, I’m sure I’d be edgy, irritable and tempted to put life on hold until the change in question happens. Not so with my three friends.
Last night I wanted the heat to break. It felt like we needed the same rolling thunder and cracks of lightening that broke the humidity over Edinburgh in the early hours of Wednesday morning. But last night neither thunder nor lightening came and today still feels heavy with waiting. But in the last few hours something has happened. It’s not a change in the weather but, no sooner than my back was turned, didn’t one of the waits just come to an end. It’s a boy!
Patience Taught by Nature, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
‘O DREARY life,’ we cry, ‘O dreary life!’
And still the generations of the birds
Sing through our sighing, and the flocks and herds
Serenely live while we are keeping strife
With Heaven’s true purpose in us, as a knife
Against which we may struggle! Ocean girds
Unslackened the dry land, savannah-swards
Unweary sweep, hills watch unworn, and rife
Meek leaves drop yearly from the forest-trees
To show, above, the unwasted stars that pass
In their old glory: O thou God of old,
Grant me some smaller grace than comes to these!–
But so much patience as a blade of grass
Grows by, contented through the heat and cold