“The thing about working with time, instead of against it, he thought, is that it is not wasted. Even pain counts.”

– Ursula K Le Guin, The Dispossessed

Having spent most of the summer stuck at home with long covid, I’ve found myself thinking about this quote a lot – thinking about what it means to work “with time, instead of against it.” I’ve always been someone who is quite impatient with life – my mind constantly races ahead of what my body is capable of; I expect myself to be able to bulldoze through difficult situations through sheer force of will. But this summer has forced me to stop and rest like I never have before.

I’ve also been reminded, numerous times and in numerous ways, that some things in life just can’t be rushed – they take their own time, and trying to speed them up just makes them take even longer in the end. As I sit in my garden and watch my next-door neighbour’s apples grow, imperceptibly, I realise that no amount of trying can make them grow any faster. (Please, horticulturalists, don’t correct me on this – it’s a metaphor and I don’t have the wherewithal to fact check it right now, ok? Thanks.)

Anyway. The last couple of months I’ve mostly not been up to anything very much, and certainly not writing. But sitting on the beach on holiday last week, my brain just sort of produced the below, largely unprompted. (Writers gonna write, I guess.) So I obediently wrote it up, mostly to reassure myself that I am still capable of producing words that might be in some way useful to the world. Having done so, I discovered to my alarm that it appears to be poetry, which is disconcerting because I don’t write poetry, still less do I share it with anyone. But, well, it’s all I’ve got right now, so here it is. I hope it resonates.

***

There’s a rock inside you.
It’s there in the pit of your stomach when you wake in the mornings.
You feel it blocking your throat when the tears start up in your eyes.
You hear it rattling around in your head when you try to sleep at night.
Sometimes you think your heart has become that rock.

You are bloody sick of it, that bastard rock,
sick of that millstone round your neck,
dragging you back, weighing you down.
You just want to be free of it. You are so impatient for it to be gone.

You waste so much energy trying to get rid of that rock,
trying to smash it, break it, pick it up and hurl it into the sea.
But it is too heavy, too solid.
You could break yourself against that rock
and never move it a single inch.
You begin to despair.
It feels immutable.
Is it your imagination, or has the fucker actually gotten bigger?

But what if you could remember that your heart is not rock, but ocean?
What if you could stop struggling,
sit yourself down on that rock, since it’s here,
be still a while,
and watch the waves of your breathing break against it,
infinitely wise and gentle and patient,
Trusting that each one brings you closer to the day
when your ocean heart and the alchemy of time
will have ground that rock into sand?

Soft beneath your feet,
still there, still a part of you,
it will carry the memory of your suffering.
Sifting through it, you may even find something precious and glittering,
that day when you stand quietly on the shoreline of sorrows past
and know that this is the stuff that lives are made of;
that this, just this – this was living.