Cooling My Heels

“Well, you can just sit there and cool your heels for a little while!”  My brother and I had been caught in some misdemeanor again, so Mom pulled out another of her little obscure phrases and tried it on us.  “Cool your heels?  What does that mean?”  The words were spoken as an aside to my brother, so as not to poke the already buzzing hornet’s nest again.  The intent failed.  “You just sit there and keep still!”  thundered the weary lady, already well past the limit of her patience for the day.  We kept still.

I really hadn’t thought about that phrase again until the other day as I walked out to the back yard where a couple of my grandchildren were sitting on the park bench.  I approached from the rear, so they were unaware of my presence.  I heard their little voices talking with each other about some mundane subject which I don’t remember.  What I do remember is the four little feet swinging in the air.  As they sat, unworried by the passing of time, they “cooled their heels” and enjoyed life.  Hey!  This is one of those AHA! moments, isn’t it?  Almost fifty years later, I finally get it!  But, these kids have a much better way to wait than my brother and I.  We sat angrily, awaiting the words that would set us free from our prison.  There was no carefree, happy-go-lucky air to our countenance.  We couldn’t wait to get up off the seats we were on and back into trouble again.  I think that I like their waiting better than mine.  Now that I consider it, I still wait with a case of the grumpies.  Rather than taking advantage of the momentary respite to consider the joys of life and to count my blessings, I tend to count the passing seconds as wasted time, never to be recaptured, muttering under my breath the whole time.

Many of us are not good at filling the “in between” times, the periods in our lives when we don’t have a clear directive.  We call it “marking time”, “passing time”, or even “treading water”.  They’re not encouraging descriptions, the last even implying that we’re in the throes of a drowning incident.  It all reminds me of the British sit-com entitled “Waiting For God”, which the Lovely Lady and I watch periodically.  As you might expect, the story is about old people, no longer of any use to society, who are just passing time, waiting to die.  What an empty and sad concept!  I have to admit that the idea is not entirely foreign to us in this country either.  Many of our aged parents and grandparents sit in wheel chairs at nursing homes, with nothing at all to fill the time except to stare at television screens and wait for mealtimes.

I do know one lady who is the exception to that rule.  The Lovely Lady’s mother is now in her eighties, having suffered from crippling rheumatoid arthritis for close to forty years of her adult life.  But this is one lady who is not passing time.  Even with her misshapen, contorted hands, she plays the piano daily.  Frequently, she plays for song services in the lobby of the home where she resides.  She writes letters to friends and family; her scrawled missives, although becoming harder to read, a testament to her devotion to others.  An avid reader all of her life, she continues that practice daily.  Most evenings find her with one or more family members in her room playing a couple games of Scrabble, at which she remains quite formidable (I won’t even attempt a match!).  She’s ready for God, but she’s certainly not waiting for Him.

I’m reminded of playing music many times over the years with different bands and ensembles, mostly in the classical genre.  Frequently, the director of the group will call our attention to the last note in a piece, reminding us that it’s a grave mistake to just play the note passively or to let it die out.  “It’s as much a part of the music as is the first note!  Give it life!  Make it exciting!”  We never just hold a final note.  It’s either building or softening, moving and still full of life.  The piece is not yet ended and we keep communicating that until the very last beat.

Are you thinking that you’re done?  You’ve played your part and moved off the stage, so you’re waiting for who knows what?  I want you to know that you’re not finished until the last breath is drawn, the last word spoken.  You may be waiting right now, but you can do so joyfully, and with anticipation for the next act, whenever that may commence.

Why don’t you just pull off your shoes and socks and cool your heels a little while?  It seems to work for the kids.  I’m going to try it too, the next time I have to sit and wait.  My guess is that their method sure beats my normal case of the grumpies.  Maybe we’ll find out together.

“You usually have to wait for that which is worth waiting for.”
(Craig Bruce~Canadian software developer)

“But those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.  They shall mount up on wings as eagles.  They shall run and not grow weary.  They shall walk and not faint.”
(Isaiah 40:31)

Originally published 9/7/11.

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.

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