Forbearance

Scottish-born author Robert Louis Stevenson was no stranger to being stuck at home. Although he was an acclaimed travel writer and author of some of the 19th century’s most exciting works of fiction—Kidnapped,Treasure Island, and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—almost all of his 44 years were spent suffering through sickness. Just like his mother and his grandfather, Stevenson continually nursed a weak chest and a persistent cough. He nearly died several times, barely surviving particularly cold winters or after making long voyages.

 

In his poem “The Land of Counterpane,” it’s easy to imagine Stevenson as a weak, sickly boy as he writes: “When I was sick and lay a-bed/I had two pillows at my head/And all my toys beside me lay/To keep me happy all the day.” He had to learn how to find contentment and entertainment while confined to his bed.

 

Though Stevenson was raised by devout Protestant parents, he later proclaimed as a young adult that he was an atheist, telling his father that he couldn’t continue to live a lie. In his final years, Stevenson retired to a Samoan island where he hoped the warmer climate would improve his health. During those last four years, his feelings about religion seemed to change. Stevenson wrote Prayers Written at Vailima, a collection of devotions meant to be read at various times of the day. One of these prayers is simply called, “For Success.”

 

“Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere. Give us courage and gaiety, and the quiet mind. Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies. Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavors. If it may not, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come, that we may be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune, and down to the gates of death, loyal and loving to one another.”

 

In spite of how his late-19th century wording might fall on modern ears, something about this prayer especially resonates now. This man with all his unfortunate flaws and unique talents and the tragedy of his battles with sickness and seclusion, can speak to us in these extraordinary times.

 

One word in particular stood out to me—forbearance. It’s not a word I use in regular conversation, but desperate times calls for descriptive vocabulary. I’m already in the practice of daily praying for patience, but now I pray for forbearance. It’s a word with more weight, like the thud of two feet being planted in place to prepare for the attack of an opponent. To forebear is to abstain, to bear up against, to control one’s feelings. There’s a sense of delaying, of waiting, and in the waiting, an endurance. I can imagine a young Robert, lying in bed with toy soldiers and books carelessly thrown around him on the sheets. He looks out the window and sees a world he misses. He wonders what lies beyond what he can see, both down the street and in his future years. A century and a half later, these are my thoughts, too.

Bike-riding lessons

There are just some things that are hard to teach young children: how to hold a pencil correctly, how to tie their shoes, how to make their beds, adequate basic hygiene like teeth brushing that brushes all of the teeth and showering that cleans all of the parts. And then there’s teaching your kid how to ride a bike. It involves balance and concentration and patience from them and running alongside a bike from me, so the whole experience presents a variety of problems.

 

I’ve been working with our youngest to get him solo-ready for a couple of years. I’ll admit I haven’t always suggested it as often as I should have. Call it busy family or lazy mom or the usual predicament of the 4thkid, it just hasn’t been a priority. It hasn’t helped that he’s been reluctant to ride. Naturally athletic by nature, he’s used to being able to conquer physical activities pretty easily the first time, but this bike thing has been a different story.

 

So when we had that beautiful sunny Sunday last week, it occurred to me to pull out his bike and get him back in the saddle. After we filled up the low tires, he hopped on. Up and down the driveway we went—him pedaling erratically and swerving like a maniac and me jogging while grabbing a wadded-up bunch of the back of his shirt.

 

Not long into the lesson, he said, “Is it okay if I sing a song? It will help me focus.”

 

“Sure,” I panted.

 

“Keep on trying. Don’t give up,” he sang in a made-up tune. “Never give up. Just don’t give up.”

 

We continued until I felt he was correcting his balance issues—going a little to the left if he was too much to the right. Then I slowly let go of his shirt. He rode a few yards by himself until he veered off-road into some grass.

 

“I did it!” he cheered. He hopped off the bike and ran to me in joyful triumph. “I rode my bike!”

 

We hugged and walked back to his bike for him to mount and try again. “I just kept remembering something important that I hear a lot,” he told me, full of introspection and wisdom from his hard won victory.

 

“What was that?” I asked him, assuming he’d repeat some sage advice I’d given him.

 

“You never give up,” he said, proudly.

 

“That’s right,” I answered. “And where did you hear that?”

 

“Ricky says it to Lucy all of the time because she’s always trying to get in show business. And he’s right, she never gives up so she got her own TV show.”

 

I realized he was referring to I Love Lucy, not the careful parenting of his mom and dad. But if it helped him remember to keep trying, even when things seem impossible, then I’m okay with that, especially if it means I can stop running alongside his bike.

Ezra in action