When the snow-girt earthCracks to let through a spurtOf sudden green, and from the muddy dirtA snowdrop leaps, how mark its worthTo eyes frost-hardened, and do weary menFeel patience then?—Amy Lowell, “Patience”
On our way to work on Friday I felt strangely happy to notice we were following a builder’s truck, with two pieces of planed wood sticking out over the tailgate, a bucketful of trowels for smoothing a new sidewalk (though a pawprint or a name will afterwards be left in its hardening surface for a lifetime) or perhaps for scraping a thousand years of accumulation off the surface of an archaeological dig, and in the back window of the passenger cab a small jaunty white terrier.
Today, for my well-being, I’m asked to reflect on the power of patience. It is that, I think, those few small details that connect us to the earth.
Patience is laying out the walk, smoothing the fresh cement, observing laid-down building rituals so the entirety will stand. A new foundation, a new life or home, life going on.
Wendell Berry, in his “In a Hotel Parking Lot Thinking of Dr. Williams” writes similarly about people needing to have, and no longer having, patience—
the patience for beauty: the weighted
grainfield, the shady street,
the well-laid stone and the changing tree
whose branches spread above.
For want of songs and stories
they have dug away the soil,
paved over what is left,
set up their perfunctory walls
in tribute to no god,
for the love of no man or woman,
so that the good that was here
cannot be called back
except by long waiting, by great
sorrows remembered and to come
by invoking the thunderstones
of the world, and the vivid air.
Patience involves (and enables) a particular relationship with the world, with time. Care and tenderness and an awareness of what’s past and what’s ahead, while living yet in the moment in the manner of sages, poets, saints.
The most patient I have been was pruning a fenceful of overgrown potato vine one summer, cutting out the dead layers without cutting the new, tracing tendrils. One bit at a time, seeing the fence and garden and my mind itself and my heart clear.
Patience on a monument. Patience is a monument. The time-worn statue visited each day over the years, the heartsease visiting it brings, the sturdy friendship with the stone and elements that write on it the slow and patient stories, some with multiple endings.
E.E. cummings writes about patience a lot—
i wake to a perfect patience of mountains
i am a little church (far from the frantic world
with its rapture and anguish) at peace with nature
patience is patient is (patiently
all the eyes of these with listening
hands only fishermen are prevented by cathedrals
the lilac's smoke the poppy's pompous fire
the pansy's purple patience and the grave
frailty of daises
The pansy’s purple patience says it all. All peace and well-being are there.
image: Patience on a Monument Smiling at Grief, John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (the artist's life moving from Yorkshire to Florence)