I swear I’m being tested. In the last two months I’ve stood on more long lines and waited hours for more delayed planes than is good for a person.
Three times out of three I’ve chosen the wrong lane on the Williamsburg Bridge, leaving me standing still watching the cars in the next lane whiz by. It’s like someone sees me coming and makes sure the person in front of me in the supermarket has a fistful of coupons, five un-scannable items, and is paying with an out of town check.
All things come to those who wait, they say.
Things like high blood pressure, foul language, white knuckles and curled toes, I say.
My waiting is not calm; my waiting has teeth.
Our world has made “instant” commonplace and lowered tolerance to dangerous levels. The task of waiting four hours and 27 minutes at Kennedy Airport a few weeks ago just about did me in. I learned once again that time becomes a mighty opponent when you deliberately seek to kill it. After thinking about it, I’ve come to humbly believe that patience, as a virtue has been underrated and waiting as a great art, unacknowledged.
My exasperation as the eleventh person on line at the Post Office on the day the new stamps came out was way out of whack. One would think from the stress my body was undergoing that I was in serious danger. Was the issue that I was wasting time? That I wasn’t in control? I’m not sure. I seriously tried thinking of all the ways standing on that unbearably slow moving line could have been worse. I was warm and safe and dry. I didn’t have to go to the bathroom. I had no theater tickets. Just as you can’t force a fruit to ripen, a flower to blossom or water to boil, I reasoned, you can’t expect one overwhelmed, well- meaning civil servant to speed up. Just breathe and let go, I instructed myself. The lesson, that it takes a lot of patience to have patience, is not easy to master.
What’s sad is that for all the energy I’ve expended contriving ways to be less wasteful of precious, fleeting, irreplaceable time, I’ve never figured how to best invest my savings. The years have taught that “free” time evaporates if not immediately acknowledged. I wonder exactly where I lost my patience and whether this state I’m in is incurable. I envy my sister who has never worn a watch, my friend who blithely opens a book when faced with unexpected delays, my daughter who sticks her ever present head phones over her ears when she’s in limbo.
I wasn’t always this way. I remember, in the days before “shortcut” became my mantra and “time consuming” the worst thing a task could be, I coped pretty well with long waits at the gynecologist, the beauty salon, and my favorite restaurant. The harried pace of life has forced them all to be more respectful of time. While waiting at the airport, I loved to people watch, imagining by how they walked if they were traveling for business or pleasure, returning home or striking out for uncharted lands. I didn’t check movies and plays to see how long they are before I went to see them or tape shows to fast-forward through endless commercials. I used to think small children (are we there yet?) were the most impatient among us. Now I’m not so sure.
The first commandment of any twelve-step program asks that we accept what we can’t change. Maybe that’s the key. That impatience is an addiction might actually be good news. It means with commitment and hard work it can be overcome. I’m tired of getting red-faced in the bank and restlessly toe tapping at the train station.
I’m going to inhale deeply and resolve to become more patient. Wish me luck. I no longer want to stupidly fast-forward myself into a future I’d no doubt trade for today.