“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.”Arnold H. Glasow
Back in December, after having lived through a very challenging year, several of my friends began to contemplate the idea of choosing a word that would guide them through the coming year, a word that would become a mantra of sorts and one upon which they might meditate in the days to come. These friends shared the words that had guided them in previous years along with the words they were considering for 2021. I found this entire idea rather intriguing. What word would I choose, I wondered.
When I settled on patience as the word that would guide me into 2021, I optimistically envisioned myself sitting before a fire with a glass of wine, the warm glow of candles, and snow softly falling just outside my window, as I crocheted, read, or was absorbed in something entertaining and life-affirming on the television. I’d be uncomplaining, calm, and perhaps even serene as I waited for my turn to get the COVID vaccine or Spring…whichever came first.
“It is strange that the years teach us patience; the the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.”Elizabeth Taylor
Reflecting on the word I chose, now only three weeks into the new year, I’m reminded of a scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Thinking he has found The Holy Grail, the villain drinks from the golden goblet and soon shrivels away to dust. The Grail Knight, who has been guarding the true chalice, then remarks in a slow, deliberate tone, ”He chose…poorly”. I think I too, may have chosen…poorly.
In truth, there was a fair amount of hubris in my decision. Certainly, I’d have the strength of character and the fortitude that comes with age, to be able to postpone the gratification that would arrive with the vaccine…or…Spring.
But, wait a minute. Who was I kidding? I realize that I have to wait, but I don’t know what gave me the idea that waiting would be easy. After nearly a year of COVID isolation, I have crocheted the same pattern at least five times, I have trouble reading unless I get large-print text, and I’ve already binged watched all fifteen seasons of my favorite detective series. I am almost out of wine and I’ve been out of Diet Coke for a week. There is snow outside my window…but it arrived with ice and slush as well. Not exactly what I had envisioned.
Public school prepared me to stand in line and wait my turn. I never push or shove and although I might think about cutting the line, my conscience makes it a near impossibility. I immediately merge when the sign says lane closed and never try to pass cars expecting to squeeze in ahead of others. And more than once I’ve stood outside a closed bathroom door giving the present tenant privacy and time to complete their tasks only to discover that it had been unoccupied the entire time. I understand the morality of waiting, taking turns, and remaining in your place in line. I was taught well.
I really don’t mind standing in line when everyone is waiting equally. I like take-a-number and I appreciate serpentine lines where you move up one at a time. You reach the head of the line after those before you have been served. Then…as it should be…it’s your turn.
Twenty years ago, I joined a long line in The Tower of London to see the British Crown Jewels. It’s not often the approach to an event is as memorable as the event itself, but I have remembered this experience for two decades. The line of courteous visitors wound through two adjoining rooms. Videos of the Royals wearing the pieces we were about to see played on the walls. When we reached the cases filled with the royal treasures, we stepped onto a moving walkway that carried everyone, at a snail’s pace, past the crowns, scepters, and the rest of the collection. There was no jockeying for position because tall and short visitors had equal access. At the end of the walkway, people could exit the building. If, however, you wished to take another quick look, a docent would direct you back to the people-mover and you’d take your place once again. It was such an orderly, efficient, and just system.
The worst standing-in-line experience I can remember was in Moscow in 2002. It took us two hours to go from our plane through passport control. It was a small airport and there weren’t many arriving passengers. It wasn’t that the officials were that thorough or that the process was complicated. The problem was that the line was very fluid. People pushed, elbowed, and bullied in front of others who were ahead of them. My public school line-training and years of Sunday school lessons wouldn’t allow me to return a shove for a shove or even put up much resistance. All in all…it was not a pleasant experience.
Standing in line for the loo is a uniquely female adventure and has taken place in every country I’ve ever visited. There’s a special kind of bonding that takes place in the brief connection of women in bathroom lines. Of course, like any other kind of line, some remain silent and keep to themselves, but generally, women in long lines exchange smiles at the very least and often strike up conversations, share tissues from their purse when the TP has run out, and point out stalls that have just become available. It is a temporary community of common need.
When we reached St. Petersburg, on that trip to Russia, we were treated to a fantastic lunch and entertainment in the Music Pavilion on the grounds of Pavlovsk Palace. While most elegant in every other aspect, there was no running water and no plumbing. Two porta-potties had been set up in the back. Presently, I found myself outside the familiar blue buildings in the ubiquitous line of women.
Irene, who had quite a commanding presence on an ordinary day, proclaimed in a voice of added authority, “I’ve had just enough vodka to be assertive.” she said forcefully. “We are all going to wait equally. None of this his and hers stuff. It will be first-come, first-served.”
“Yes!” the rest of us exclaimed with smiles and muffled cheers.
You can imagine what happened when my husband found himself in need of the WC. Seeing two units and a single line of women, he assumed that, as is normally the case, the one without a line was standing at the ready for the next man to arrive…him. Hilarity ensued as the women quickly put him in his place at the rear of the line. I was told that one of the women even threatened with her cane, but I can’t swear to that.
This isn’t the first time I’ve waited for a vaccine. In the 1950s, my classmates and I were herded into the school gymnasium where we took our places in a long line that snaked around the room. I was too young to understand the promise the polio vaccine held for us. All I knew was there were a lot of kids crying. I wasn’t in a big hurry to get to the front of that line. How times have changed! Today it is the elders…those same kids from the ’50s and ’60s…who are counting on the promise that comes in a syringe. This time all the tears are tears of relief.
“Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.Unknown…Probably a Woman
Perhaps there was more wisdom in my selection of patience as the word to lead me forward than I thought, for it has already taught me important lessons. I know that kicking and pushing won’t get me to my goal any faster. Even if they would, my belief in the inherent fairness of taking turns is so ingrained that I would never employ them. I know that friendship, connection, kindness, and sometimes even humor are possible in the communal act of standing resignedly together in a line waiting. I know, too, that no matter how long the queue there is always an end and the eventual reward is worth all the effort. If life is indeed a journey, not a destination, then it may follow that waiting is also a journey. The length and speed of the line…like life… are out of my control, but whether I find a way to enjoy the trip or rail against it is up to me.
I’m considering cookies or maybe chocolate as my word for next year.