“They also serve who only stand and wait.”

— John Milton

There is a great sort of strength in waiting.

There are times in our lives when we are called upon to work; and when those times stretch on for days and weeks and months, we might find ourselves complaining about all the things we have to do.  Then, when an event takes place that stops our doing and calls us to simply wait for an outcome, we might wish there were something we could do.

Last night I had a late-night phone call from my father.  When his number appeared on my caller id, I knew that something out of the ordinary was going on.  My elderly parents are always in bed by 8:00 PM, and sometimes even earlier.  Dad’s voice was calm, which told me that something serious was unfolding.  Mom has been feeling out of sorts lately, and yesterday she failed her EKG.  The doctor had decided it was time to send her to the hospital for evaluation and treatment; and the timing was not the best, considering my folks’ sleep schedule.

My dad has struggled for some time with a feeling of helplessness that sometimes borders on uselessness as he tends to the needs of my mom.  She has suffered from dementia for six years now, and her need for support has become greater and greater as her condition progresses.  Dad just turned 90.  Every day he thinks for two, selects wardrobe for two, even puts toothpaste on toothbrushes for two.  There are a thousand little details that Dad manages, day in and day out, that are invisible to the untrained eye.  To the rest of the world, it appears that Mom and Dad move somewhat effortlessly through their days in Assisted Living.

Dad is tired.  No, Dad is exhausted.  During his days of sports competition, Dad was a runner.  His longest race was the 440 — he was a sprinter.  This life he has been dealt is no sprint.  My sprinter Dad, at the end of his physical energy, has been called upon to run a marathon.  And he runs.

I thought of John Milton’s quote this morning as I walked quietly along my sunrise path.  It is one of Dad’s favorites.  It is made of the words he uses to encourage himself when he has a difficult day and wishes for a simpler life.  Last night, Dad heeded the nurse’s good advice and put himself to bed while my sisters and the hospital staff tended to mom.  If there is one thing a marathon runner learns, it is to conserve his energy and keep a steady pace.  The impatient sprinter has learned the wisdom of the long-distance runner — sometimes they also serve who only stand and wait.

Today will be a day of waiting.  It doesn’t appear that Mom’s current problems are immediately life-threatening; but they remind us that life is fragile and our parents are coming up on the finish line.  The trees along my walking path today were hiding places for many birds.  With all the foliage gone for the winter, one would think that their locations would be obvious to a walker like me who longs to see them.  Except for my friends, the crows, not one showed its tiny face.  I heard the sparrows, the chickadees, and even a noisy woodpecker; but not one of them caught my eye.  This is what it feels like to stand and wait.  The outcome lies hidden.  We can hear the still, small voice of faith, singing deep in the branches where we cannot see it; but still our soul can hear that all will be well in the end.  And so we stand and wait.