She wrote to me the other day. I have sent her letters all her life, but this is the first one I remember receiving. Dear Sarie, she said, I love and miss you so much I look forward to hugging you when all this is over could you pray for me to have patience. It was spelled pashants, but I knew what she meant. She didn’t mean to be clever in her run-on sentence, but it was perfect. It was her voice, and I heard it.
When I sit at my desk in the evening I often think of her. She has older parents, as I do, and I wonder if her nights feel long. I hope she isn’t watching too much TV. I imagine her listening to music in her room. It took me a long time to learn to be alone, and she is younger than I was. I would sometimes listen to sad songs and cry. This felt meaningful. I can’t picture her crying, though. She might be writing in a journal with a lock on it. About a year ago, she grew out of my clothes and discovered she could pick me up and this became the prime feature of her hugs. Nothing is required from me but a willingness to be restrained and suspended in the air until everyone can see. “Hold me!” was her constant plea as a toddler, and once on my hip she would reach for my hand. “I’ll be Fred, you be Ginger,” she’d say and we’d twirl to Swing Time. When I finally showed her the 1936 movie by that name, she decided, you know what, she’d rather be Ginger.
She has had unique challenges in her young life, and has been called many things. She sorts through them, like the weekly pile of dirty clothes: where she came from, who she was and is now, what she has and doesn’t have, what’s wrong with her and why and what they say it means. They don’t come clean in the wash, and she wears them again and again. But she knows she is loved. She knows how to cook a fine dinner and make a strong cup of tea. She knows how to welcome a person well, how to be comfortable in a nursing home, how to watch babies, how to clean a horse stall, how to dance a (sort of) waltz in swing time and how to write a good and honest letter. She’s only thirteen and she’s an enthusiast in life, which I think is the chief end of education. I’d say she’s doing alright.
I know how to pray for patience, though granted, this is a poor sort of accomplishment. She thinks that because I do not jump up and down and talk too loud and fast, I have the patience she lacks. She is the little sister, the only one left in the world who doesn’t see my faults: how I long for assurance and meaning and answers, and go after them like a bat out of hell. Yet I’ve been told to live in the questions. I’ve been told in a hundred ways by as many people to be patient. I used to think I just had more love and joy and faithfulness than patience, but I don’t think it works like that now. If you really loved someone, you’d be willing to slow down for him, just like walking with your grandfather. If you really loved something, you’d be careful to learn it, long to hold it and slow to lose it. You could take in a lot of uncertainty and fold the seasons away and let the time change you and the world around you, if you really loved.
Love is patient. Love is kind. Every night I need to come home to love like this. Kipling says in his famous poem that if you can wait and not be tired of waiting, you’ll be a man, but I never wanted to be a man and in all her make-believe, neither did she. But I believe God has a soft pillow for women who wait. So I pray for her, not so much to have patience, but to see the patience she’s been shown, like a friend after a long absence, to hug it to her heart and suspend it in the air, as the prime feature of her life, so that everyone can see.
So I wrote her back in the quiet of the dark house. I reminded her to look for ways to be constructive, to make herself useful, to read books and to garden. This is the advice I have for all humanity. I told her I love her.
We spoke today.
“Did you get my letter?” she asked, “ I was hoping you’d write back.”
“And you mailed it…”
“The next morning.”
“So… when will I get it?”
“Well we are on the same route, but I told the postman to take it slow, because we were asking God himself to give you patience.”
I heard a groan, and something like a size eight and a half foot, bruising the earth below.