When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.
When I studied this poem for GCE O level I didn’t understand what it really meant but as the years have passed by it has become much clearer. As you become older you realise that you have to stand back and let younger colleagues move forward.
We all have a place in this world and we all perform a function, regardless of our ability or disability. The word order of this sentence may make it more difficult to understand. In modern English it would be something like: “They (those people) who only stand and wait, also serve.”
John Milton wrote this sonnet more than 350 years ago after he had gone completely blind. He was inferring that despite someone having any disability they always have a purpose in life.
There have been many occasions in my life when I have had to wait but if I reflect on these times they have often been shown to be valuable. When I was in Nigeria and was travelling by bus across the country to Zaria to the Hospital, where I was going to be working for an elective. Suddenly,en route in what seemed the back of beyond the bus broke down and careered off the road. Out of nowhere appeared mnumerous able-bodied men, who literally lifted the bus back on to the road, but still the bus failed to start. We waited nearly 2 days for help to arrive. I had felt waiting 30 minutes for a bus to arrive was long enough but 2 days seemed unimaginable. During that time villagers appeared selling food and many other items some of use others were just souvenirs. This was probably my first lesson in waiting and I learnt very quickly how people lived in Nigeria. Now when I see those people in Sudan or Syria on the TV waiting for food parcels it brings back my memory of having to just wait until help arrived and that feeling of being powerless to hasten the process. I only had to wait 2 days and I was not that hungry.
Since that time there have been numerous occasions of waiting.
As a doctor we often have to wait: for medication to take effect, a woman to deliver, a person to die, a patient to arrive after accepting an admission and simply to wait at the end of a phone for the right person to answer. Over the years during these waiting times I have learnt to play bridge and other card games, play darts and snooker. I have had chance to read most daily papers, many novels and of course learnt about many medical conditions as well as learn about the lives of fellow doctors, nurses, cleaners and porters. It was often a time to think about what I was doing and why and reflect. I realise that these waiting times have been invaluable in teaching me more about being patient, being aware of those around me and the lives they live and the importance of their roles as well as learning to do things I would never have dreamt of doing.
Sadly, today working is about being cost effective and if someone is simply waiting it is considered to be inefficient so that we all have to be active and productive.
In my partial retirement I am learning to stop and reflect once again and as I write up my latest appraisal at the end of each clause I am instructed to reflect. We are now being advised to have protected time on a regular basis to reflect on our work, probably not to play darts or bridge but to have time out to look at what we are doing well or not so well.
Those words written 350 years ago sound much more meaningful in that waiting may become part of life and can be a very important aspect if you allow it to be. Moreover, if that is all you can do so be it.