They also serve
Who only stand and wait.
--John Milton in "On My Blindness"
Milton (a genius and poet, maybe known to you as the author of "Paradise Lost" ... from which many common sayings have come into the English language) lived in England hundreds of years ago when having humans as servants (instead of the applicances we have as servants today) was common for anyone who could afford to.
If you ever watch a film set in a household with servants, if you ever happen to notice in a news report of a state dinner (at the White House in Washington, D. C., or in other countries) - you may have noticed that there are always servants (today, we're more likely to call them "servers") standing by in additon to the servers who are bringing food, pouring beverages, clearing dishes.
Or, maybe you have not noticed those other servers who stand in the background ... stand so still that they look like "part of the furniture," "part of the wallpaper."
Why are those servants there???
They are there to watch to see if there's anything they can do to make the event better for any guest. A guest drops a fork on the floor while dining with a world leader? (I know I'd be so nervous in such a situation that I might drop my fork more than once ... and would be so embarrassed that I had.)
One of the "wait-ers" (one of those who serve by standing and waiting till they are needed) unobtrusively acts to get a replacement fork onto the table for the guest without calling attention to what's happened ... and then goes back to blending in with the furniture and wallpaper until next needed.
Interestingly ... usually, those with the most experience and skill are the ones assigned to stand and wait. A less-experienced, less-skilled server may be counted on to do a good job directly between the kitchen and the tables and back again. It take someone special, though, to wait (without falling asleep out of boredom! some of those dinners go on for hours, after all! without fidgeting, coughing, picking one's nose -never a good idea in public, even if standing in the background ... but some people do it when they get bored). It takes someone special to assist the host, hostess, and guests without making a big deal out of it.
So Milton wrote:
They also serve
Who only stand and wait.
Those words comfort me when I am in situations where I am standing and waiting and feeling like part of the furniture, part of the wallpaper, on the sidelines rather than part of the action. I like to keep my spirits up then by reminding myself that those on my team who seem to be "doing more" are counting on me for back-up. I remind myself also that it takes more experience and skill usually to stand and wait for the first sign of some way that I can serve than it does to be given an assignment and then go do it.
Doesn't it take more skill to plan a day in your life - to plan how you're going to fit in and balance your duties and schedule work and play and deal with emergencies, big or small -- than it would if someone told you, "Go do this load of laundry and cook this for supper and I'll let you know if I need you to do other things"??? Does the planner get much credit for "running the household"??? Hmmm ... sometimes not. It's often the "do-ers" we admire.
Okay ... now that you understand about how it's possible to serve while "only" standing and waiting ..... here's something from the news about people whose service to my country is clear - and it's unlikely that I will ever serve my country by doing as they are doing, it's unlikely that my life will ever be at risk or disrupted the way their lives are.
I am humble in the face of their service. Following the news account, I'll share with you how I aim to serve while standing and waiting.
In my heart today ... on my mind today:
"3,200 Marines prepare for Afghan tour
According to officials, 2,200 members of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., will go to Afghanistan, as well as about 1,000 members of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, which is based at Twentynine Palms, Calif.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the deployment announcement has not yet been made. If approved, the deployment to southern Afghanistan would be a "one-time, seven-month" assignment, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Friday.
The 2nd Battalion, which is from the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, is an infantry unit, and it will be used largely for training Afghan forces."
"Currently, there are about 27,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including 14,000 with the NATO-led coalition. The other 13,000 U.S. troops are training Afghan forces and hunting al-Qaida terrorists."
When I think that I have it tough (neither aging nor chronic illnesses are for sissies! nor is working a plan to lose or maintain weight and to become more fit a job for sissies!) ... it helps me to remember when I am awake in the small hours of the morning, that someone else is awake (in less safety and comfort than I have in my home and far from most of those they love) because s/he is serving our country. When I am in pain or mental anguish, it helps me to recall those who have served and been discharged but are still in pain or mental anguish.
I do the things I know to do (learned by experience, skills practiced to be as good as I can make them) to serve my country and to stand and wait to assist those who are on active duty - or have been in the past.
While the appearance to many people may be that I am "only" standing and waiting - I know that the truth is that I also am serving. That truth comforts me in my distress.