Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Patience: An Inconvenient Virtue

January is brutal.  The only reminders of the jollity of Christmas are half a stale fruit cake and the orange cream chocolates that no one likes.  The hours of daylight (never mind actual sun) are without the benefit of fairy lights to brighten things up.   Our bank accounts are running on fumes.  Our tolerance for family has worn paper thin.  And the new season of Homeland doesn’t start until September!   It’s no wonder so many people get depressed this time of year.  Even I, with my normally buoyant disposition, start feeling a bit blue and bored.

And so it was that I found myself robotically skimming a newspaper the other day when a story about international food policy grabbed my attention.  (Not normally a scintillating topic, but hey, this is January.)  I actually read the entire piece.  What I took away from it was not the call for greater animal welfare or a move toward more sustainable farming.  No.  What I took away was a reminder to be patient.  Particularly this time of year.

Did you realize that an association between tobacco and cancer was discovered 200 years ago, yet the US Surgeon General only identified smoking as a public health issue in 1964?  And that the suffrage movement was active for 75 years before women got the right to vote in America? 

The trouble is we’ve got a collective case of ADD.  We don’t want to be patient.  In fact we’d like to see patience struck off the list of virtues!  We want instant access and overnight success.  We want movies on demand (my son nearly had a heart attack when we boarded a trans-Atlantic flight after Christmas and discovered there was NO in-seat entertainment), lightning-quick broadband in our homes, and short lines at the grocery store. We want instant messaging (does anyone actually use voice mail any more?) and 24-hour shopping.  We want our politicians to get things done NOW regardless of who or what they must ride roughshod over, and for goodness sake can we please have a fast forward button for January and February?!

Nope.  We can not.  And thank God.  For the gift of these dreary winter months is that they remind us that a period of quiet and dark and contraction is akin to drawing back the bow before you shoot an arrow -  it is essential if you want the arrow to fly.  (As Joan Chittister said, "Darkness deserves gratitude. It is the alleluia point at which we learn to understand that all growth does not take place in the sunlight.")  No matter how strong the will or how much we stamp our feet we can’t speed the pace of the earth 'round the sun any more than we can look at a flower and shout, “Bloom!”  So why not just go with it?  By allowing ourselves to slow down, re-group and yes, get bored, we pave the way for greater vitality, more creativity and renewed focus and energy for the things we decide are really, really important.  Like international food policy, for example.

January is nearly over, but we must face at least four more dreary weeks before we sense a shift in the seasons.  Wallow in it.  Daydream.  Eat comfort food.  Or fast.  Take more baths and less showers.  Learn to knit or play the guitar.  Enjoy wrapping up in your winter coat, because you know what?  Spring will arrive.  It always does.  Be patient.

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