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The Preponderance of Patience


Two examples, off the top of my head……Did you ever go through a door and catch sight of someone coming out of the corner of your eye? Some of us – many of us maybe – me anyway – will hold the handle, or regrab the handle if we had released it, to hold it for the person we just spotted. And then we realize they are farther away than at first recognized and they are walking slowly. And then we squirm; what to do? Release the door now after you both have entered into this “agreement”? That could well be perceived as rude by many people and who wants to be thought a jerk? Or you stand there and wait; trying outwardly to be patient but seething with impatience internally. I almost always choose to stand and wait, especially at work where I know a lot of people. At an airport or a mall, depending upon schedule and circumstance there is a chance I may let go of the handle and pass the other person, eyes averted.

Or you are turning left onto a side street and as you pull up, someone pulls up to the intersection wanting to turn left, There is a sliver of gap in the traffic; a chink in the line of metal. You can gun it and take your left around the front of the turning car and slip through the gap, but in doing so you eliminate the chance for that turning car to sneak out effectively condemning that car for the next break in traffic, which during rush hour time can be agonizingly long. There exists a chance that if you both can sync up very rapidly, the turning car can shoot out while you block your lane of traffic and you could still have time to shoot in behind them as they pull out. But very often that sync does not occur quickly enough; the turning driver doesn’t know if you are stopping to let them out or just because you are timid with the traffic. And you both end up missing the opening and you both end up sitting there waiting for the next opening. And sometimes the next opening is very slight and the other driver doesn’t chance it but you know you could have snuck through yourself. And it all becomes very uncomfortable at this point. There is an increasingly longer line of cars forming behind you and inevitably they begin sneaking by on your right on the shoulder, which only makes it exponentially harder for the turning driver.


Ultimately, much of life is a test of our patience; we wait for so very many things in our life. We have to wait until we can stay past 8PM as kids, and then 9PM. We have to wait to ride our bikes to the next neighborhood. We have to wait to drive a car. We have to wait, seemingly always. Life can play out like a game of waiting. Back up far enough, high enough, and realistically we are born and immediately begin waiting to die. And within that time construct, when we start working, we are essentially waiting to retire. It is one of the hard truths of our lives; we spend an incredible amount of time waiting, For some folks I know and see regularly at work, come 6AM they are waiting for 4PM; come Monday they are waiting for Friday; come January they are waiting for July and summer vacation. And so on. Waiting. And it can only be done with patience. You can’t accelerate quitting time without being patient and allowing the steady progress of the clock do its thing.

You stop in the local grocery store after work and find that half the state has also stopped to shop after work. You wait at the deli counter and you wait at the meat counter and then you wait to check out. Borrowing a little from The Five Man Electrical Band and using a little literary license: line, line, everywhere a line, blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind, do this don’t do that, you have to wait in line.

And the only way to survive is with patience. But what is patience? There are a myriad of ways to pass time and not all manage to do so patiently. Consider people in general: glass half empty, glass half full; open minded, closed minded; patient and impatient. We all approach the wait differently. These days, the huge majority reach for their phones and strike that ubiquitous generational pose: slouched with head down, shoulders bowed, and hands on the phone. I am not casting judgment here at all; in fact I am surely one of the worst offenders of using my phone too often. Sidebar here: I remember the day when there were no cell phones and if someone sent me an email while I was out – I didn’t know it and didn’t read it until the next day; and the world didn’t end!

There still exists some small percentage of folks who would prefer to engage in small talk while waiting. They tend to be tentative about it nowadays, mostly waiting <smile> and anxiously searching for some visual or other clue that indicates the other person is receptive to talking and won’t swear at them or worse.  Their approach to waiting is constructive – positive and enriching – human contact and interaction. A growth opportunity. They are the ones who tend to hear more of the “music” than others and they dance to the tunes.

Still others, who are made of more impatience than patience, get angry and frustrated. They are the horn honkers at traffic lights, the line cutters at the airport, in the store, and in traffic. They do not know how to wait and can’t fathom the concept.

But consider waiting, patience, for a moment. It is not just “things” or “moments” for which we need to wait. Think of your own personal growth dear reader; for me it has taken a great number of years to learn, to understand, to achieve, to grow, into patience. And I still have so much further to go yet. But that specific item is merely a subset within the larger category of personal growth, of self-actualization. And that takes time; there is no rushing personal growth; we are not all born with the ability to be responsible for our actions, to tell the truth, to do the right thing, to feel empathy, to give to others, etc. Those are traits which we all attain with time…….and with patience. That’s right – patience! We need to have patience with ourselves; we have to patiently allow ourselves the time to grow. And certainly, the same with our children; they need, deserve, the depths of our patience as they struggle to learn right from wrong and to grow as humans.

Picture you best, most memorable teacher; did they facilitate your learning by standing over your shoulder with a ruler – cracking you on the back of the hand as you made a math or spelling error? Or did they gently work with you, rewarding what you did well, encouraging you, and helping you understand where you erred? Always strive to hold that thought in your head whenever you are with children; they deserve every ounce of patience we can afford them. For that matter, all humans deserve our patience; we are all still evolving daily; all struggling to learn our daily lesson in life. As such, some are more advanced in that growth than others and it is only fair and just that knowing that, we allow them their time to grow with patience…..never easy for sure, but the right thing to do. I do reasonably well in general, but I wrestle with that mightily on the road in traffic. I have so little patience for people who cut others off, who run red lights, who don’t use turn signals. I try but often fall short. I don’t chase down other drivers just to flip them off or yell at them as I used to, so some personal growth there for me, but not nearly enough.

Always remember that waiting is an action; at least waiting with patience is. Not overtly doing something is still doing something. The great sequoias did not grow to their current majestic size overnight; Aristotle or Plato did not spout wisdom as toddlers; Niagara Falls began as a trickle. We have to allow greatness to grow.

My current test of patience is my retirement. I feel a little like a kid just before Christmas: eagerness, anticipation, excitement, and ants in my pants expectancy. And still 10 weeks to go. The decision has been made and announced; the replacement requisition has been generated and posted. It feels so surreal, so foreign. I am in uncharted waters, no compass and no ability to see ahead through the fog. I am anxious to get around the bend; to assess and comprehend my new reality. But that has to wait – I have to wait. And it is testing my patience.

I am trying to use the time to teach, to mentor, those I am leaving and to some extent, it is working. But they are still all in the beginning or middle of their marathon runs; they are busy trying to achieve, to hone their skills, to make their marks and to rise themselves above their competition – they really don’t have a lot of time to sit and listen to what I want to teach them.

The final 50 workdays (or less given days off such as today) will be difficult, of that there is no doubt. But just writing this has helped me think through the whole process and been at least a little cathartic. So the next time you are disappointed that your child didn’t pick up their toys or spilled a glass of milk; the next time you are stuck in traffic or someone cuts you off; the next time you lay your head on your pillow and berate yourself for something you said or did that day that resulted in you being disappointed with yourself, please try to think about patience. Be patient with your children, with others, but especially with yourself; allow yourself, and others, that chance to grow and learn without consequence.

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