patience

The woman was in her fifties, and her left knee was strapped up so that she had to use a crutch to manoeuvre herself awkwardly into the bus seat.   When I asked her what happened she said that she fell and broke a bone (that’s what she said) in her kneecap.   And I shuddered.   I fell four weeks before, not for the first time, not drunk or incapacitated, just clumsy and unlucky.   And pain lasted and lasted and lasted. But I didn’t break anything , how lucky was I. The helpful physio reassured me “Keep it warm and rest” and gave me an exercise to do – balancing on one leg while cleaning my teeth. Apparently the reverberations felt from the electric toothbrush are enhanced through the system if you stand on your left leg on Monday, your right leg on Tuesday and so on. It is shamingly hard to do and please don’t talk to me about yoga – the secret of yoga lies in the teacher. As in so many other things.

So I have had to be patient and, like lots of us, I am rather better at being patient with somebody else than with myself. What is patience with you feels like skiving in me.   But I didn’t want to go to the doctor: long wait, possibly irrelevant xray and painkillers. I waited three weeks (three weeks !) before I went to a reliably recommended physio. You can’t stop altogether if you live alone (which may be a good thing) so I went out and got the papers and then out to shop for food and then came back, tried to find somewhere comfortable to rest my leg and read. I found bits of tv, domestic things to do (only ever get a C for housekeeping) and I was reminded of the old saw “sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes, I just sits.”   Every time I felt my butt spreading under me, I limped through the house, swearing at the pain. (It was remarkable how much less it hurt when I knew what it was.)

Lying on the sofa, I can look out of the upper half of my front windows which recalled a programme we did at LBC about weather. It produced wonderful stories, including that of a bedridden woman whose bed lay under a big sky light, describing how she watched the weather modulate and change, the man who found his dog under the fog and the boy who fell in love in the rain. I like stories better than any other form of writing, stories are unending because they are about people and people are endlessly interesting. Though I have had to be patient with the book I am currently reading, a book which spoken would fascinate but written, requires a high order of concentration and just when I think “no more”, comes up with yet another story. So I persist.*

And when I falter and begin to wonder if – really – I am not trying hard enough – whether with the writing or moving – I go back to the poem entitled Patience by Edith Wharton which my son found and wrote out for me, which lives on the noticeboard.   Because it seems patience isn’t one thing but several.

There is a kind of patience to do with endurance. Previous experience or information suggests you may have to contemplate that the outcome won’t be good but you endure – like the scenic designer married to a successful actor who had already fought three rounds with booze and drugs. They shared a home, had children: he died of an overdose. She endured. She probably still is.  

While another kind of patience is quiet but not passive, where you wait but with attention. Gardening requires this kind of patience. So does growing your hair.   The difference between hearing and listening requires this kind of patience. You can hear all sorts of things but listening is about attention.

There is a patience where you say “I must wait – it is out of my hands”, perhaps in the outcome of a vote, tests or a medical intervention.    And there is an end to patience, where you demand “What is going on ?”   Patience is a matter of degree: some patience is admirable. Too much is for saints.   Not a chance.

*Farewell to the Horse by Ulrich Raulff (Penguin)

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