Libraries have always been a safe and sacred space for me. The consistency of the scent of books, hushed voices and a backdrop of stories feel like the perfect pretext to learning alongside people I don’t know. There is an inherent safety I feel within the stuffiness of public libraries, thinking about how many people have walked through the same rows, flipped through the same pages and felt safe in a place meant for all.
The entrance to one of the most loved American public libraries, the New York Public Library (though I’m not sure how public library clout is measured), is framed with two statue lions who were given the names Patience and Fortitude during the Great Depression. The mayor of New York at the time, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, named them for virtues he believed were necessary for enduring a persistently difficult time. As we find ourselves in an exceedingly challenging time, patience and fortitude again prove relevant to guiding how to continue when we don’t know how.
I think I have repeatedly responded with the opposite of both patience and fortitude many times in 2020, longing for newness and feeling deeply fatigued. This year has opened up an amorphous period of waiting, necessitating the realization that the future is both unknown and out of our control.
The loss of structure and the ambiguity of the future often left me feeling empty and distraught and, at times, helpless and detached from anticipation for the new year. The constant barrage of information and online communication has been relentless too, as the busyness of our work or school lives were invited into our homes.
This year, the seasons passed much too slow or too fast—as we fluctuated between wishing the months away and wanting to rein time in. The push and pull of “I can’t keep up” and “I can’t wait” has been dizzying—leaving us too disoriented to navigate where we are or how to move forward. There is no denying the weightiness of both.
The push and pull of “I can’t keep up” and “I can’t wait” has been dizzying.
Where can we go from here? How do we acknowledge the intricacies and complexities of 2020 and chart our experiences into a roadmap for 2021?
While the loss of 2020 can be quantified in many ways, it cannot be dealt with or processed neatly. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented amounts of patience and fortitude.
In responding to uncertainty, we should not push ourselves into isolation or delve into things that ultimately empty us. Instead, we should realize how desperately we need each other. We may feel as if we are in the lion’s den, but we can take heart knowing we are not alone. In fortitude, we realize we are fortified and can fortify others, leaning (even virtually) into people we trust and providing a voice of truth to speak above the background noise of a tumultuous year.
We may feel as if we are in the lion’s den, but we can take heart knowing we are not alone.
In times of isolation, we can take time to reflect on the kind words and deeds that have nurtured us into the people we are. We can fix our focus on speaking life-giving words that someone else needs to hear.
Patience reminds us there is something to wait for—that the clearing of old things makes way for new challenges and opportunities to look forward to and refine us. The posture of waiting implies expectation. We can wait—holding lament for what has passed and hope for what is to come in tension.
We can wait—holding lament for what has passed and hope for what is to come in tension.
I hope as you look toward 2021 you are filled with greater patience and fortitude—acknowledging the hard work you have done and the hope that awaits you. May this be the year that wisdom and encouragement reveal that you are not alone—even when you are apart, even when the waiting period is undefined.