My friend Tina compliments me on my patience especially when she observes me hopping, now walking, with a walker – which I’ve been doing for three months. I’ve never considered myself to be patient.

Sarah is the patient one. I’m a slow poke and she patiently waits for me to gather what I need for an outing and to do one more thing before we leave. Nowadays and for the last three months, Sarah puts a chair by the door so I can sit down to put on my shoes – one shoe and one slipper actually. She opens the door so I can move out to the front porch with my walker. Then she brings me a crutch so I can use it and the hand rail she built to get down the two front steps. At the bottom, she brings me the walker again, then folds it up to put in the back seat when I get in the car. There’s a wheel chair in the trunk too so for longer distances she gets that out and attaches the two foot pieces and wheels me around.

There are all sorts of maneuvers required when we travel on the ferry. And the evening showers; they’re an exercise in patience too. And for Sarah to be the solo cook and bottle washer, laundress, housecleaner, driver, grocery shopper and so on.

Although Sarah already seemed patient perhaps I’ve learned some patience through perseverance. There’s really no choice but to keep going.

The word “perseverance” in Latin means “one who sees through to the end,” “one who doesn’t yield.” Some synonyms are tenacity, steadfastness, persistence, doggedness. I will see this particular journey through to the end when I will be walking again without walker, crutches or cane.

perseveranceIn Chinese, the character for perseverance is often the same as the one used for patience Margaret Wheatley says. She’s written a small book called Perseverance (Berrett-Koehler, 2010), a copy of which my friend Beth gave me. It was a timely gift for these trying times as I learn to walk again after surgery to remove a tumour, the rearranging of muscle and a skin graft.

We’re now approaching April and it was in May last year that I discovered a lump on my left shin. So almost a year of perseverance.
The last few months have been the most challenging of all as I haven’t been free to walk or drive. There is progress though as I continue to go to physiotherapy and to do exercises at home. Janine, my physiotherapist, said she was proud of me yesterday. Dr. Hill, the plastic surgeon, and his nurses always seem to be pleased with the state of the skin graft. It’s important to note small signs of progress as I persevere.

A little book I’ve appreciated for many years is The Book of Qualities by J. Ruth Gendler (HarperPerennial, 1988). Pam, a Toronto friend, wrote inside the book in December 1997: Dear Mary Ann, You radiate goodness and humour . . . Blessings to you on your path as you continue to choose courageously and step lightly.”

bookofqualitiesRuth Gendler has created characters of human qualities and illustrated the book as well. The Qualities are wise and whimsical and there is one called Patience.

Patience wears my grandmother’s filigree earrings. She bakes marvelous dark bread. She has beautiful hands. She carries great sacks of peace and purses filled with small treasures. You don’t notice patience right away in a crowd, but suddenly you see her all at once, and then she is so beautiful you wonder why you never saw her before.

Being present with my own experience reminds me of a Japanese term Patricia Ryan Madson referred to in her book, Improv Wisdom: arugamama. It means the virtue of abiding with things as they are. In Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up (Bell Tower, 20015), Patricia says the Japanese word “implies a realistic and responsive approach to life.”

So we build bridges over rocky terrain and work with what’s in front of us. I really love improv. Although I’ve thought of joining an amateur theatre to be a member of a cast in a play, I couldn’t take (I don’t think), all those rehearsals. With improv you just show up without a script and say “yes.” You seize the idea offered to you by another performer and you go with it. The “yes muscle,” says Patricia Ryan Madson, “builds optimism and hope.”

improvwisdom“Yes” is good and so is optimism and an active form of hope rocking back and forth on my feet and stepping heel to toe with both feet. There is indeed waiting involved with patience and it was perhaps that form of patience I felt I never had. But I’m not waiting, I’m actually doing something. Still, waiting has its own harvest as poet Kay Ryan points out in her poem, “Patience”: “Who would have / guessed it possible / that waiting is / sustainable – a place with its own harvests.” Here’s the whole poem:

Patience is wider
than one once envisioned,
with ribbons of rivers
and distant ranges
and tasks undertaken
and finished with modest
relish by natives
in their native dress.
Who would have
guessed it possible
that waiting is
sustainable— a place
with its own harvests.
Or that in time’s
fullness the diamonds
of patience couldn’t be
distinguished from
the genuine in
brilliance or hardness.