The lesson for the day is patience.
Lamb Watch 2020 reminds me of that on a regular basis. In all the years since lambing season here on the farm became a community invitation to join me as I watch for lambs, there hasn’t been one like this. Lamb Watch began over a month ago. The first lamb was born over three weeks ago. We then watched another ten days for lamb number two. And now, two weeks later, we are still waiting for the last two ewes to give birth. I just returned from an early morning trip to the barn, and in a refrain now so familiar that two year old Frederick who checks in on Lamb Watch with his mom has taken to chanting it every morning with me, I can report that I found “no new lambs.”
I don’t know why lambing has been so stretched out this year. It could be because my ram is brand new at this. It could be, as my shepherding mentor Ruthann reminded me, that the ewes stretched out the time they were ready for that young ram’s advances. Or it could be that the universe is simply giving us a longer time to be together in anticipation, while we binge watch the antics of the two lambs we have. It could be that this is our season for learning patience.
I am not a person who has any refined capacity to wait. As a child I bullied my sister into telling me what my Christmas presents were long before Christmas. Now, more than half a century later, I am not much better at it. I like to know things as soon as possible, I like to act on what I know, even before I really know it, and I like to move first and then decide if I’m moving in the right direction. When I go out and buy some new toy or device, I rarely make it all the way home before I have opened all the packaging and played with it a little bit.
And, of course, I was raised in a culture that has little use for patience. From microwave “baked” potatoes, to Amazon overnight delivery, I have been schooled with the best at the University of Immediate Gratification. Such an education however, does not serve the soul.
But this year, as I wait longer than usual for lambs, I have also joined the whole world in a season of waiting. I spend my days at the farm, in my physically distant space, alternating between chores, church work, and listening to the news of the global pandemic. Every now and then I look out the window or walk out to the field to check for lambs.
The lesson for the day is patience.
My new book is titled “Shepherding the Seasons, Stories from a Life With Two Flocks.” When I was discussing that title with the editor, I suggested the subtitle could be “Lessons from a Life With Two Flocks.”
“‘Lessons’ sounds too pedantic,” the editor said.
So we went with “Stories.” But today, I am circling back to “lessons.” In this pandemic time, I want to learn. I want to keep my eyes open. I want to be in the world in a new way. And the lesson for me, for today, is patience.
I have heard it said that I can know I have truly learned my lesson if I start doing things differently. And sometimes those lessons are short and create immediate change. It took about two instructional sessions for me to learn not to go into the barn with my good shoes on. Now it is farm boots only, even if I have to go up to the house to change.
But this lesson in patience seems like a different kind of thing. Just like the word implies, it is a lesson that requires time; a life lesson, offered every day, and especially right now. I also suspect it is not something one masters and then moves on from. There is no “Now that I have learned to be patient, I can tackle the next thing.” I return to my lessons in patience again and again, each time with a slightly changed perspective. “Oh, patience makes me more present in the moment,” I observe while I wait for Lent to end and chocolate to resume. “Oh, patience keeps me grateful for what I have,” I note when I decide to wait before I hurry to acquire the next new thing. “Oh, patience keeps me centered while I am till waiting for lambs,” I mutter sleepily in the barn late at night, when my flashlight reveals no new lambs.
“Oh, patience is one of the deepest forms of hope,” I realize again, in this long season of waiting, in this coronavirus time. Presence. Gratitude. Centeredness. All of those practices are practices of hope. They serve me and serve our world, and they are practices we have needed all along. They will not only hold us in this time, but will help us emerge into a better world.
Last night, like every night for the last month, I headed down to the barn. Twice in those two months I have been rewarded. And on the rest of those days, as today, the lesson of the day is patience.