Thyme and Tide

I’m making stew tonight.

It’s cold and blustery outside. December up here means the sun is already mostly gone as early as 3:30 in the afternoon. The wind howls around the house and one morning last week I woke up to see a troop of very confused ducks waddling about on top of the lake, which had frozen over in the night. It’s the perfect sort of weather for a nice, hearty, beefy, herby, vegetabley stew. (Click that link for the recipe! I highly recommend!)

But here’s the thing about a good stew: you have to let it… well, stew! For like three hours! And let me tell you, it smells really good. The. Whole. Time. And when it still has two hours to bubble away and its aroma is floating through the whole house and I’m already super hungry (so like, right now) it can be equal parts exciting and frustrating. Making stew is an exercise in patience, I think.

So humor me a bit here as I wax poetic while I’m waiting for my stew to stew. Actually I’ve been thinking a lot about waiting and anticipation recently, so tonight’s dinner is a pretty nice tie in.

Right now, I seem to be waiting and anticipating a lot of things. I have this “countdown” app on my phone that lets me set a time and then keep track of how much longer until I reach that time. I feel like a little kid on a road trip sometimes, pulling up the app and asking “Are we there yet?!” And the app is the driving dad whose patience is wearing thin but is still trying to be nice, saying, “No, not yet. Still 19 more days, hon.” Last year, during my final year of university, I set the “how many days to graduation” countdown way back in the middle of the fall term. Looking at it periodically helped me remind myself I was almost there, and this too shall pass.

There’s a lot of countdown going on this time of year. Unless you live under a very large rock, it’s impossible to be anywhere in the Western Hemisphere and not be aware that it’s Christmastime. Amid the December haze of gingerbread, carols, lights, shopping, and all the jingle bells, holiday films, and festive get-togethers, there’s a theme of anticipation. This is exemplified by the quieter, more intimate side of Christmas. If you follow the Church calendar at all, you’ll know that right now is the season of Advent–the time of waiting, preparation, and eager anticipation of the celebration of Christ’s coming. In Advent, readings of Old Testament prophecies and the Christmas scriptures, prayers of preparation, singing of hymns, and lighting of candles all serve to mark the passage of each day toward Christmas. Every day brings us closer to the real day. It’s not just a fun season. It’s a season of preparation leading up to something better. But heaven forbid I start humming that dreadful little tune “Christmas Countdown” that my orchestra insisted on playing every single year… those of you who know it I apologize to you for mentioning it.

I’m doing some countdown-watching of my own just now, though admittedly it doesn’t have much to do with Christmas. My handy dandy countdown app tells me I’ve got a mere 255 hours till I’m on a plane back home to see all my favorite people. Even though it’s 11 days out, I can hardly restrain my impulse to pack my bags right now, because man, I am ready to be home. Additionally, the occasional glimmer of a bit of precious rock and metal on my left hand will catch the light, a physical reminder of my other countdown–that in 108 days I’m getting married to my best friend and loyal adventure buddy. There’s so much goodness ahead in the future that it’s hard not to wish away the present.

There’s a saying that goes “Time and tide wait for no man.” Basically it means that time passes, proceeding ever forward, and you can’t stop it or ask it to hold up and wait for you. A few months ago, I sat alone on the shore of one of my favorite beaches near sunset. I picked a boulder to sit down on and stared out at the waves. After a few minutes I noticed that the ocean was a little bit closer than it had been; a set of paw prints I had seen near the waterline had washed away. I sat there and watched the tide gently come in, bit by bit, slowly but unswervingly creeping up the beach and closing in on my rock until I had to abandon it and get to higher ground. I couldn’t have sped it up or slowed it down if I had wanted to. And even if I had been able to, I would have missed the magic of the moment.

Life’s seasons are the same way. The opportunities that you have right now may not come again. In all of the Christmas anticipation, the Advent celebrations, wedding planning, or even in the act of cooking a stew, there is a state of conscious “active” waiting. Sure, I’ve got to hang out for two hours while that pot bubbles. But I can use that time to prepare other parts of the meal. Sure, I may still have two weeks before I can go home and see my family, but I can use that time to invest in the people who are with me here now. Waiting does not necessitate wasting. Today only comes once. Each day matters. I think that’s important to remember in a season of waiting. Passive waiting is just impatience; time spent wishing the present away is time wasted.

Well, that’s all from me for now! I’m off to go finish dinner. And, as a quick moral of the story, I can guarantee that the stew will be all the more flavorful for the time it had to simmer and bubble. In the end, waiting makes the final result that much more enjoyable.

Also, I’d just like to mention that my stew recipe didn’t actually call for thyme. I definitely added it to the pot solely so I could make that pun in the post title. I am dedicated, you guys!

On the upside, thyme is delicious.

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