It is both a blessing and a curse to be what my friend Jane calls a noticer. A brisk walk gets interrupted by urgent bird song and turns into a slow stroll and a one-person game of “Name That Tune.” A quick glance out the window on the way to empty the dryer becomes a private planetarium show as a shooting star is framed in the panes. And an ordinary trip to the grocery store becomes a lesson in philosophy. Or theology. Or both.
The mother and little girl — probably 4, maybe 5 — walked hand in hand toward me as I crossed the Publix parking lot. Engaged in conversation, they were both smiling. As I drew closer, I heard the little girl say, “I have one more patience.” I made eye contact and smiled, trying hard not to laugh.
I didn’t not have to have heard the previous conversation to know exactly what was going on. The little girl wanted to be done with all the errands — the picking up of the laundry, the mailing of the packages, the buying of the groceries — and she wanted to be done now. She, if she is anything like most of the children I know, had already asked if they could stop at McDonald’s or Dairy Queen or Chick-fil-A on the way home. And her mother — God, bless her — had just said, “Please, be patient.” Or “You need to be patient.” Or “If you can’t be patient there will be no treat.”
To which the little girl had said, within earshot of this noticer, “I have one more patience.”
I hold as precious treasures the funny things that the children in my life have said. I replay them in my head in moments when I am reminded of how quickly they went from being children to having children. I remember their sweet faces, utterly sincere and oblivious to the humor in what they’ve offered.
As I walked through the automatic doors and grabbed a buggy, I found myself less charmed than provoked to deep thought. Patience, of course, can not be counted. One cannot travel through the day with a full pocket from which one patience after another is drawn as circumstances require. There is no reservoir from which a single patience can be poured.
By the time I’d maneuvered past the BOGOs, stopped to thank the lady in florals for the beautiful peonies I’d bought last week, and made my way to produce, thoughts of the young sage in the parking lot had been replaced by far shallower things: Will they have the bread I like in the bakery? Is the self-checkout really quicker?
The thing about noticing, though, is that the thing you notice, the thing that slows you down and makes you consider, sometimes reconsider, what you know, well, it doesn’t leave you alone. It nags and pesters and bothers until you see what you’re supposed to see, hear what you are supposed to hear, grasp what has been dangled in front of you.
Groceries loaded, I leave the parking lot and the voice of the little girl invades my thoughts again: “I have one more patience.” One. Just one. A single unused patience that, if spent in the current moment, will no longer be available. She was making sure that her mother understood the currency of the moment.
I take a deep breath. Do I? Do I understand what I am using up right this minute? Do I have any idea of what is being squandered? In the background of my incessant preoccupation with something or other is there a moment that is gone forever without my noticing its worth?
I remember the oft-quoted line from Mary Oliver’s “A Summer Day”: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?” — and I realize for the first time that the most powerful of the descriptors is not wild or precious, but one. One. Just one. One patience. One life. One opportunity to notice, to notice it all.