I believe that when I was teaching, I had the patience of Job in terms of my having the emotional fortitude to wait for results, especially when a student was trying but just not getting the lesson. It was a precept that kept my temper in check for all the years that I taught high school. Something happened, however, after I left the classroom and retired.
In retirement it’s easy to become spoiled very quickly, because there are so few occasions when you have to wait for something anymore. The goals of teaching are necessarily long-term in the sense that enjoying the result of your work can take weeks or even months, especially with a recalcitrant kid, whose understanding comes only gradually before his enlightenment becomes the cherished prize for you and for him. In my dotage, I’m becoming more and more like the students I taught all those years. My goals are becoming short-term in a world that is once again about immediate gratification. I admire the patience of nature itself, which creates great beauty so slowly.
Even my cable TV reinforces an environment of getting what I want instantly. The remote allows me to pause whenever I wish and for as long as I wish, while I go to the kitchen for a snack. I can even take programming back for a minute or for many minutes to replay something I missed or something I want to see and hear again. The power to do this has brought about a slow deterioration of forbearance in terms of my ability to wait as calmly as I used to. While listening to my radio, I have several times reached for the remote to back up a comment to hear it again before remembering that there is no such control on my radio. The scary thing, though, is that I have found myself thinking, even if for just a second, that in conversation with friends or with people at the supermarket or post office, I can back up the talk, pause it, or simply delete it altogether. Sitting on the deck the other night, I was watching a beautiful Colorado sunset, and for just a split second, I actually thought that I could pause it as I reached for a remote that wasn’t even there.
I have come to the conclusion that I need practice once again in the art of waiting. In a time of life when I should be lingering over things with an equanimity I never had as a young person, I seem to be going in the other direction. Technology is not really to blame, however. Everything from my microwave to my short-cycle washing machine and a GPS that talks to me politely, even recalculating routes when I goof up while driving, makes life so much easier, but I shouldn’t allow my sense of tolerance and my ability to wait to be compromised, especially in my dealings with other people. It is something of which I am well aware. My partner, Jim, is the essence of patience, and I have never seen him lose his cool about anything (well, OK, just once). He is the model of what I would like to acquire again, that ability to take things as they come, while working to change things I can change, over time with a cheerful spirit. I want again to be able to say, “I can wait.” I need to recall what it’s like to be able to wait quietly for things to evolve and complete themselves, and that perhaps the most beautiful things in this life come from not having control over them, but just enjoying them as long as we can before they disappear, and other beautiful things take their place. Life is good that way. JB