Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.
“Did it take you a long time to learn to be patient?” My 8-year-old asked. She admitted it was hard to stay patient while we waited for the jousting to begin during the Sonora Celtic Fair.
“Patience is a virtue,” the adults in my life told us when we were kids.
A virtue is a habit.
A habit is developed by repetition.
I explained to my daughter that I learned patience when the big things in my life required it. After that, the small things, like jousting, seemed less important. I may be eager for it to start (to get off the metal bleachers and stretch my legs, that is) but ultimately it does not really matter when the jousting starts.
You can learn patience in the small things. Then, when the big things happen, you are ready. You have the muscle grown, the habit habituated, I told her.
I thought I was patient once. With each child, my patience grew. Then, as I stayed in San Francisco at the Children’s Hospital with my son, I saw where the virtue really stands. My patience was tried.
Returning home, the habit seemed weaker than ever, unaccustomed as I had grown to the habits of four small, irrational children, so my self-talk said.
Self-talk is often wrong.
It is a matter of the small things versus the big things. Can we handle the little things calmly, even if we wish they would get on with the jousting? Does traffic send you into a rage? Do you swear or call people idiots under your breath when they make a mistake? Do you expect others to be more patient with you than you are willing to be with them?
I wonder how often we look patient on the outside, but seethe a bit under our skin when things go the wrong way. Apparently, I look this way: cool exterior, stormy interior. Now I warn my kids, “you are trying my patience” to help them understand, my temper does not come out of the abyss. It swells until I lose it.
We pay a hefty price for the irritations, the peccadillos throughout the day that irk us like burrs on our socks. Emotion costs something. Too many of us are willing to waste it on the small things. I fear doing so means we have little left in reserve for the big things.
Emotions are fierce things that happen to us. We do not make them happen. That is why the emotion itself is neutral, neither good nor bad. Anger is not a bad emotion, neither is worry or fear. It is the response we give to the emotion that deserves the valuation. I responded well or I responded badly.
When we are waiting, my husband and I use humor to pass the time. People typically offer great entertainment, especially for a cultural commentator such as myself. There is introspection, too, for the naval-gazers among us. My husband gets lost in the maze of his mind where composing happens. We call my daughter “head in the clouds” most days.
Cell phones help us little with growing in patience, as the effort to get the greatest number of advertisements in front of the greatest number of eyeballs encourages skimming, clicking and swiping in rapid succession. If practicing the habit helps it grow, avoiding the practice weakens the human mind and spirit immensely.
Alcohol also helps pass the time, but wait long enough and the one who imbibes may engage in disorderly conduct, trying the patience of those not fortunate enough to hold the fun flask.
Like most things, once patience is tried, the answer lies first in awareness of the opportunity, second in the call to action of the mind in response to the emotion and third in taking steps to actively engage one’s mind on something rather than mere waiting.
I hate waiting.
All of this is guided and determined but some overarching moral belief that it is good to be patient. If we do not believe, I doubt we shall ever be. A person’s strong sense of entitlement does not play well with a belief in the good of patience. It rather emphasizes patience in others than ourselves.
Opportunities will come, but will we see them? American culture is oriented towards comfort, thus the typical American likely struggles with discomfort, except those already trained in patience by life circumstances or those who watch jousting.