I have been fumbling around in a collection of old English idioms recently. My old nan used to say ‘you never know before till after’, a sentiment it has taken me years to fully comprehend, and I recently learned that the common phrase ‘to spill the beans’ has its origins in the early Greek democracies in which placing a white or a black bean in a vase meant a vote for ‘yes’ or for ‘no’. The idiom that stood out from all the others in these times was ‘patience is a virtue’. Cato the Elder of the Roman Republic wrote something along those lines over 2,000 years ago and Geoffrey Chaucer wrote that ‘patience is a high virtue’ in the Canterbury Tales, a best seller back in the 14th century. Patience is a virtue and how we need some virtues today.
I would imagine that by now almost all of us have lost our temper a little bit. The lockdown has been relentless – and rightly so – and we have all been forced into situations which are unusual and testing. Surely many of us have taken a long inward breath through our teeth as the habits of those we now live so closely with begin to grate a little. Perhaps a few of us have even raised our voices in frustration, only no doubt, to regret it, and apologise later. It isn’t easy to be virtuous but we can begin our attempt, in this holy month, by exercising a little patience.
Take an extra deep breath, force a smile through the frown and try to see the funny side. Give a hug instead of a shout and – here’s another, more recent addition to the lexicography of idioms – try to look on the bright side of life. Let us show those around us the same patience that we need from them and let us also have some patience with the wider world in its attempt to solve the problem we face. Remember that ‘fools rush in…’. And keep in mind also the wise words of the English historian Thomas Fuller who wrote in 1650, that the darkest hour, is just before dawn.