If you can wait

Photos from Unsplash; photographers, clockwise from upper left:
Anaya Katlego, Mohammad Gh, Tom Morel, and Vidar Nordli-Mathisen

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise…  — Rudyard Kipling

If I had to name my top five favorite poems, “If” by Kipling would definitely make the cut. Every line is challenging and full of manifest wisdom. Though I have loved the poem since my youth, I find that different lines of it are most applicable to me at various times in my life. The verse above, however, has remained relevant for as long as I can remember.

Can you imagine how the world might be transformed if everyone– leaders, politicians, executives, family, clergy, entry-level clerks, students, even children– lived up to the principles contained in just these four lines? While each of these lines sets a high standard, the fourth is perhaps the most challenging of all. How difficult it is to remain humble while refusing to return evil for evil! How hard it is to remain ethical in a corrupt world, without inspiring resentment and jealousy in those who project their own manipulative tendencies onto the action of others.

According to almost anyone’s reckoning, time passes ever more swiftly, yet we grow increasingly impatient at even the slightest bit of waiting. Surely the waiting Kipling refers to here would be measured in weeks, months, maybe even years. Often, though, I don’t even want to wait a day for something I deem important or time-sensitive.

During the years since Jeff died, no small part of my sadness and agitation are the result of grief taking far longer to heal than I had expected it to take. Many days– maybe most of them– I have to remind myself that I must focus on just the day or hour right in front of me. My mind, though not what it once was, seems agile and demanding compared to my aging joints and exhausted limbs.

Growing older can bring with it a sense of urgency as the sun sinks gradually into the horizon of our long term picture, but the ability to wait gracefully becomes even more important than it was in our youth. As I look to my third full year of widowhood, my resolution (to the extent that I have one at all) can be captured in Kipling’s words above. I want to wait patiently, without agitation. I don’t want to give in to the liars and haters. I want to stay humble and grateful, short on advice and long on understanding. If I can manage all that, I won’t need to worry about much else.

As you look toward 2019, what aspirations fill your heart? Whatever they may be, I wish for all of us a year of greater peace, fewer distractions and abundant joy.

46 Comments

  1. Harry Sims

    And the solution is — Gratitude.

    • Harry, to that I say a big “Amen.”

  2. Good morning, Julia!
    I’ve waited enough lately that I’ve just started bringing my knitting bag everywhere I go. It gives me the illusion of being productive, when there is nothing useful that I can do in a situation, except to wait.
    My challenge now is in the latter lines. I want to make decisions for my parents, which aren’t my decisions to make. Too wise. Wanting to help, I’m tempted to take away their decision making. I want to get a new doctor for my dad, and upset the apple-cart.
    I will have to keep this poem in mind.

    • Susan, I love that phrase “the illusion of being productive.” One of the dubious “gifts” of aging is the realization of how much of our lives are spent laboring under this very illusion, that what we are doing will be lasting or even meaningful to future generations. On the other hand, knitting (and many such activities) ARE productive, if only for their salutary effect on the brain. It’s even possible that your knitting created a “calm zone” that benefited nearby onlookers. So, I salute your knitting!

      Your description of the health decision situation with your parents was painfully familiar to me. It’s a delicate balance between wanting to make sure a loved one gets the best of care, and leaving the dignity of various choices to them, to work out for themselves. This kind of independence is more important to some than to others. Jeff was one to whom it was very important. Just the other night I had a dream in which he was ostensibly very healthy (he looked as he did about 10 years before his diagnosis) but we both knew he was terminally ill, and he was emphatically insisting to me “You cannot save me!” as if he was: a. concerned that I was headed for a great sorrow; and b. just wanted to be left alone :D. I dream about Jeff at least half of the nights I sleep, and the circumstances and “plot” of the dreams (to the extent that any dream can have a plot) are surprisingly varied, but each has something to tell me. Though I can’t always figure it out. 😀

      • Dear Julia, with all you did, and learned, and went through together, and also as yourself, I’m sure it could take years to sort through, and even then, there will be unanswered questions.
        I think that you and I both like answers to our questions, and that’s hard, when we don’t have them.
        The other day, the thought came to me that Emmanuel, God with us, doesn’t mean that we will never cry, but that we will never cry alone.
        I’m praying for you, and sending you big cyber hugs!

        • Susan, how right you are– we both like answers almost as much as we like questions 😀 or maybe even more? Though I’m no engineer, I too like logic, and to believe (even if I can’t prove it) that there is a rational explanation for everything. Being with a like-minded curious and analytical thinker certainly makes for delightful conversation and shared enthusiasm, as well as a level of understanding that is comforting. And yes– “God with us” — such a profound notion that its deeper meaning unfolds gradually, in layers, perhaps never fully comprehended but as you imply, unmistakably THERE. Re: “we will never cry alone” — remember the tears of Jesus for Mary and Martha at the death of their brother, despite his knowing what was about to unfold. It took me a long time to figure out why Jesus wept, but that scene certainly made it into the only novel I have ever written. Thank you for the prayers AND cyber-hugs — both needed and appreciated!

  3. Chris

    Hey Julia,
    First, let me wish the same things for you in 2019 – greater peace and abundant joy!
    I can’t profess to understand poetry as you do, but I do like your description of this verse. And I agree with you about the waiting. Whether it’s my military background or something else, I’ve always had a “sense of urgency”. Or, as Larry the cable guy would say: “Let’s get’er done!” 😜 However, as I’ve grown (older and hopefully wiser), I believe I’ve gained a better understanding of line one above. A certain amount of patience can often instill a little inner peace. What’s more, in the book of Isaiah, chapter 40, God comforts His people. The chapter ends with one of most people’s favorite verses: ‘but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.’ Waiting, therefore, is a blessing. Waiting provides us with opportunity to grow, understand, and gain that peace that passes all understanding. In these terms, I hope we’ve both got more waiting in store! 😊
    Happy new year!

    • Chris, thanks so much for these observations. The verse you quote has long been my sister’s favorite. She was born with a genetic condition that meant she faced childhood surgeries too numerous to count, and health issues that have followed her all of her life. She finds great solace in the promise of walking without fainting. She once wrote a short essay about fainting when she tried to walk to Daddy after one of those childhood surgeries, and how he caught her until, after waiting a time, she was able to stand again; she tied that experience to that verse.

      I can’t pretend to understand poetry, but the great thing about poetry, somewhat unlike prose, is that one does not have to understand it in a logical sense; its images reach the heart by a very direct route. However, some verses, such as Kipling’s “If,” speak to the logic as well as the emotion. I think ten different people can read the same poem and come away with ten different impressions, all valid. The best poets have a precision of language that is remarkable. Those of us who struggle with being too wordy can learn a lot from the poets!

  4. Janet Sawyer

    Thank you for amazing thoughts.💟

    • You’re welcome, Janet. I’m happy to know you are with us here. ❤ Love to C. W. and the girls — and of course, to you!

  5. Sheila

    Good Monday afternoon, Julia and Matt. As I was reading the related blogs and our comments, you had received the first OOTP calendar in 2014. I was amazed that we’ve shared that many Verandah’s and large quantities of tea! Haha‼️ I’ll wish you a wonderful New Year filled with renewed strength and happiness. Bill and I love and admire you so much. Never far♥️ She

    • Wow Sheila, that is so cool! I had not realized it had been so many years. We need to have some sort of citation from the tea companies, for perpetuating their industry. 😀 Thank you so much for being with me all those years. You will never know — at least not in this life — how important your steadfast presence has been to me. Friends give us all kinds of gifts, but being reliably present through thick and thin is relatively rare even among the most congenial of connections. You wear the crown in that category– or maybe I should say the tiara? Hee-hee. Thanks for being here and for being YOU. ❤

  6. raynard

    Julia let me just say this. Now my wife” put on my honey”do or not do”list. Starting a family tree using ancestry.com. so far we found my great grandmother. But then there is my father’s side. I was training a new co-worker today only two years older than me. He was sharing that his wife died a few months ago and he was still trying to find peace. Tonight Mary and I have no New Year’s Eve service at the church. But we will just have a peaceful reflection of time with some relaxing music playing in the background. One of the many blessings I received this year was your surprise visit for my birthday. Before you say to yourself” is he going to get”too wordy where I “WHACK him with a Wet Smelly Fish upside his head? I digress. Thank you for giving me something worth more than time and material things” Your Friendship. (for a minute I almost had a Freudian Slip and started to sing Lucy& Ethel Mertz’s song “Friendship”.

    • Hey Raynard, Mary came up with a great entry on the Honey Do list! Let me know what you discover about the family tree. Your peaceful New Year’s Eve sounds wonderful. Matt and I had the same sort of evening and it was just what I needed. BTW can you really imagine that I would ever accuse anyone of getting too wordy? That would be like one politician calling another one a crook! But I digress…Actually Lucy and Ethel are a flattering comparison for me. Just don’t put me to work on any chocolate candy factory lines, hee-hee. I’m happy I could finally make good on my threat promise to get up to the Shady Maple for your birthday, and super glad I was able to bring Susan and Matt along! Hope 2019 has more adventures in store for all of us.

  7. The poem says it all! I send you much love and light!🌟💕🌟

    • Thank you, Cherie, for the love and light you have been sending me faithfully for so long. May 2019 be wonderful for you!

  8. I too am working on patience. It’s so hard to wait for success to come, but just like I learned to wait for 20 years for my hubby to arrive, I’m sure I can wait for success. I keep reminding myself that it’s all in God’s timing. In fact, I saw this picture the other day and saved it. Let’s see if I can figure out how to share it. If not, I will email it. ❤

    • Jena, thanks for the picture. I uploaded it here so others can see it. Great example about your long wait for Matthew — a reminder that some gifts are worth the wait. ❤ Another blessing of waiting is that the process itself can be rewarding, introducing us to interesting people along the way (as at our time with the Highlights workshop) and teaching us all sorts of things we wouldn't have learned quickly. Now I will just have to wait for the time when you and Matthew can come visit Virginia! Or I can visit Alaska…or maybe both! 🙂

  9. Aspirations for 2019 include more learning, and practicing patience!!
    Happy New Year!

    • Thank you Denise! Those are aspirations for me, too. Hope 2019 has lots of joy in store for you.

  10. Carolyn

    Happy New Year sweet friend.

    • Thank you, Carolyn…Happy New Year to you and Terry, too! ❤

  11. Sheila

    🎊HAPPY NEW YEAR JULIA🎉 AND 🎉HAPPY NEW YEAR MATT🎉 I just had my ritual of hanging our OOTP calendar and our January Verandah is beautiful! Did you notice they misspelled Verandah? Haha‼️Hope y’all have many blessings awaiting you. ♥️🙏🏻 She

    • Sheila, how thoughtful of them to whisk us away to warmer regions for this month’s Verandah (most people spell it without the H but I’m stubborn). They hung that hammock up just for me. Australian sunshine is just the ticket to beat the winter blues here in the northern hemisphere. I loved the quote for this month, too…it may be coming soon to a blog near you, hee-hee. 😀

  12. Connie

    That was a beautiful blog Julia! Wishing and praying for you a happier New Year. A new year full of more comfort and more peace than your previous year.

    • Thank you, Connie. I have been so blessed to have you with us here. I especially appreciate the prayers, always needed! ❤

  13. Ann

    JULIA, When I read this quote, I thought of you.

    Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go” ~ Jamie Anderson

    • Ann, that’s a beautiful quote, and I think it’s quite true. So much of what we do as wives and mothers centers around giving to our families. Having all of that torn away is very disorienting. Still, I agree with the old adage about it being better to have loved and lost, than not to have loved at all.

  14. Julia,
    I wish you God’s Blessings , health, peace and comfort this New Year. A wonderful post! Again, we are in agreement. “If” is my all-time favorite. It is a poem that is filled with common sense for the common man and woman. For when we shake free of the worldly trappings and expectations we find that we are truly common. And therein is the peace that the world cannot give.
    Another poem I think you may like is “Ultima Veritas by Washington Gladden.
    -Alan

  15. Jack

    What a timely post! I suspect you’re doing far better in the waiting and perspective realm than you’re prepared to acknowledge, but even that I believe is a constructive and appropriate attitude to have. Whenever I believe I have arrived at a worthy spiritual objective, a little reflection always points toward but a step or two of progress in a very long journey.

    My five year commuting experience to Dallas has finally ended, mostly on my terms and I find myself employed, engaged, in good standing but with a vestige of that lifelong undercurrent of discontent. I have endured enough, experienced enough victory, defeat, joy, sorrow to know that it is my nature to focus on the scarcity and ignore the abundant. If God decides to grant me the great and I believe unattainable gift of total trust in His providence, He sure is slow in the giving. But a quick and dirty inventory of the balance sheet of my life is a requiem to gifts given great and small, mostly unrecognized and unappreciated. Far to go indeed! Hang in there Julia; you appear to be human…gloriously, unfailingly incomplete! But goodness do you have a gift of pen (and I suppose tongue too!).

    • Hi Jack, Happy New Year! “…a step or two of progress in a very long journey” is still worth celebrating, even though we may be looking for something more impressive. So you commuted to Dallas for FIVE years? Wow, I hope you enjoy being free of that now. I think most of us can identify with “that lifelong undercurrent of discontent” and with the tendency to have a scarcity mentality, which paradoxically seems even stronger in this generation than those before us, though we enjoy more abundance in almost every respect (except, perhaps, for things such as peace and quiet). Thanks so much for your kind words about my writing. As for the tongue, I doubt that anyone would describe that as a gift, notwithstanding the Celtic “gift of gab” often described as a trait of Irish culture. I don’t view my “gab” as a gift. I often think writing is the only sure answer to my compulsive chatter. Fortunately, whenever I am tempted to forget that silence is something I need to keep trying to cultivate, I need only look around me to confirm that there is much more talking going on than listening. 😀 At least with writing, people are much more free to discretely ignore it as they see fit. Thanks for being here, and for your candid observations. Hope you enjoy this new step in your career, with very minimal discontent (a little bit can keep us active, I think 🙂 )

  16. Elena

    Harry, the first who left a comment, mentioned gratitude. My aspiration for 2019 and for the rest of my life is to cultivate gratitude.
    Thank you for all your posts, Julia, and all the best for the new year.

    • Thank you, Elena! It is nice to greet you here in the comments section. I join you in aspiring to cultivate gratitude for as long as I live. Of all the appropriate sentiments we can choose, there is none more appropriate than being thankful for the abundance we enjoy. I’m so happy you are with us here. I wish you all the best in 2019.

  17. MaryAnn Clontz

    “If” has always been a favorite of mine, also. I have wondered like you stated “the what-ifs.” This card has been given to my sons at graduation time & I have given to grads. Thinking as I write the card, wouldn’t it be such a blessing for the young person to absorb even a few of the “pearls” scattered throughout this poem? Now, I want to review it for the pearls you treasure & others I may have left buried. I have you to thank for myriad joys, thoughts, inspirations & new avenues to explore! Mostly, I treasure your love & friendship!
    (Please text me, so I can ask questions.)

    • Thank you, Mary Ann…you are always so kind and generous to me. I love your enthusiastic and gracious heart. I’m so glad you are here with us! You brighten my world more than I can say.

  18. Harry Sims

    So this patience problem lit this website up.
    Ever wonder why we are called patients by the medical profession?
    Harry

    • Harry, I have wondered about that, but never heard any explanation of it. Perhaps if there was a different term for those who seek medical services, doctors would not keep people waiting to see them for (in some cases) hours on end!

  19. I hope this is a breakthrough year for you, Julia. Grief can feel like a heavy coat at times, something we wish to shed but can’t. The pastor at First Presbyterian has been a widow for two years, and she mentioned that it was meditating more than anything that has helped her through these past two years. My wish for you is that you find that special something that can sooth your soul and bring some joy back into your life.

    • Alys, thanks for passing along the pastor’s experiences. It helps not only to learn out what others find helpful, but to be reminded that such heartbreak is survivable. I too hope this will be a breakthrough year. Of course I said the same thing one year ago, but one has to keep hoping. I’m staying as active as I can force myself to be, and looking into as many possibilities as I can summon the energy to pursue. What complicates everything is that so many different griefs are hitting me at the same time, some (such as my parents’ deaths) foreseen, and others (you may be able to guess) that completely blindsided me at a time when the greatest grief of all, the unimaginably unendurable one, still had me struggling for breath. Some days simply surviving the cumulative pain of it all is the best I can expect. Thanks for being here.

      • It all sounds painful and very hard. I wonder now how my mom coped, only two years in a new country, three girls to raise in sudden poverty, along with the death of my dad and her mother. They were difficult, lean times, but we all grew stronger for it. You will too. xo

        • Alys, sometimes when we think of what others have endured, it does give us perspective and hope. Somehow I keep forgetting that you have more than one sister. I only know about the one, can’t remember anything about the other sister. In any case, being left alone with three daughters to care for must have been quite overwhelming, even leaving aside the situation of being in a new country. From frequent moving I know how hard it is to feel at home anywhere, but the multiple changes of an international move would be especially trying, I imagine…and no electronic means of dealing with all the paperwork changes either. I appreciate your hopeful view that I will become stronger. So far I’m not feeling or sensing that any of this is having any beneficial effects at all, on any level. Perhaps it’s aging, but I feel as if I’m getting weaker, not stronger. Of course it’s hard to judge circumstances from the inside. Thanks for caring! ❤

  20. I’m trying to catch up with what I missed and enjoyed reading the poem again. I think I memorized it in school. I don’t think grief ever heals when you love someone so deeply. Little things keep waking it up. Your statement “Growing older can bring with it a sense of urgency as the sun sinks gradually into the horizon of our long term picture” is something I do understand. I feel a stronger urgency than I could ever have predicted now. I wish you a mended heart this year.

    • Marlene, you are so right about grief. There are tiny IEDs in the minefield of memory and even in the physical surroundings of home, and the go off at the most inconvenient times. But perhaps I can mend anyway. I think part of the process is realizing that the grief is permanent. As my friend Ashleigh Brilliant said, “I feel much better now that I’ve given up hope.” BTW maybe Alys and I could kidnap you and take you down to Santa Barbara to meet Ashleigh in person. I’m quite certain you’d love him. Twins separated at birth and all that.

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