by Sidney S. Stark
“Patience is a virtue; catch it if you can…”
My grandmother would often recite that adage to me at the times I was least likely to be virtuous. Then she would usually finish it with, “seldom found in woman; never found in man” and she’d chuckle at her own private joke. I didn’t care about being clueless when it came to the humor she somehow saw in that, but I cared a lot about the constant reminders of the importance of patience. I didn’t like them. I didn’t want patience. And it seemed odd to me that if it was so important no grownups could ever tell you how to get it since they knew everything.
What did they mean by patience anyway? Since it always appeared to imply that I had to wait for something I wanted to have, I assumed it meant I needed staying power and I had to carry it with a lack of complaint. I was suspicious that might be a way of diverting my attention to something else because grownups didn’t want to give me what I wanted. If so, their insistence on patience was tactical rather than practical.
The other adage my grandmother frequently visited on me was ‘study repose’. Did that have something to do with patience? And my mother also had the unpleasant habit of saying, “soyez-calme” when I got fidgety. Not only did the French phrase make me mad just because it was a foreign language and therefore unnecessarily emphatic, but it suggested that patience perhaps was what she was really asking for. So then perhaps patience had something to do with some kind of serenity and quiet. If so that made me wary that they were just trying to shut me up. Could the insistence on patience have something to do with children being neither seen nor heard as well as not getting what they wanted? If so patience was an adult construct specifically designed to manacle children.
Ultimately I came to realize that patience was more about self-control and trust than anything else. As I got older I saw how hard I was trying to push myself into the adult world I thought must be better than the child’s world and how fast others were trying to force wisdom into my head that could only be acquired slowly over time. Learning to allow the passage of time to unfold on its own without my forcing it became the true lesson. And trusting that it would take me where I was meant to go if I just let it alone was the most valuable asset my grandmother tried to offer me. I didn’t accept it while I was a child before she died, but the realization that patience is a virtue never left my unconscious mind. I ran up against it full-bore when I tried to understand Eckhart Tolle’s guide to spiritual enlightenment, The Power of Now. That’s what patience is really all about. I’m referring to the concept of living in today not the staying power needed to read the book; although both would probably be accurate.
The other day a young music student I was speaking with told me that the most important thing she’d learned from her famous mentor in school was to have patience. She said at the age of twenty four she realizes what a true advantage it’s given her over her less persistent and accepting friends. I know her to be a very competitive and goal-oriented student by nature; and more self-exacting than I ever was so patience must have been a very hard quality for her to adopt. I thought to myself “if she can do it, so can I.”
I’ve decided it’s never too late to acquire patience. It’s a virtue even an old dog can aspire to.
Questions @You: What does patience mean to you? Is it one of the secrets of life?