Patience is a virtue,
possess it if you can;
seldom found in woman,
never found in man.
It was unsatisfactory, as answers go. For one thing, what possible bearing did such a verse have on the fact that there were still more than 20 days until Christmas, or two more hours until my birthday party? And this patience and virtue stuff? I was having none of it.
As I grew older, however, I began to see the benefits of patience. As one early example, on the day of our much-anticipated senior prom I learned that what is savored in anticipation is beyond delicious once it finally arrives.
For another, I experienced the merit in discipline, since discipline is the quality a person develops while learning to be patient. Also, and certainly not least of all, I came to realize how little control I had over anything in the universe but myself. Impatience began to feel like something I was doing to myself as a punishment for not having supernatural powers.
"You can't hurry love." No, the fact is that you can't hurry anything. The only thing you can influence is your own experience of waiting for the desired moment to arrive.
Frustrating? It can be. It feels like waiting, and waiting is about the most passive undertaking known to man (next to watching paint dry). But Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton, British politician, poet, critic and novelist (1803-1873) viewed it this way: "Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active; it is concentrated strength."
I have come to agree with him.
In this media-widened world, when everything happens everywhere to everyone at the same time, and time itself seems to accelerate at the speed of tweets, patience becomes the name we give the anxiety we experience when a page is slow to load. Or a traffic light seems stuck on red. Or The Bachelor has only one more red rose to deliver.
Now I could go way off the deep end here and bring up The Patience of Job, but I'll skip the dramatics and move instead in the middle ground, where we actually live. You know the place. This is where college applications take eons to garner a response. Where it takes forever to find a job. Where the chemotherapy seems stalled: is it working or not?
This is the realm of patience. And, unfortunately, our skills in this area are diminished by the rapid-fire access we have to almost everything we could ever want. We have less need to practice patience in our lives today, so when we are called upon to do so we are petulant, rusty.
John Lennon said that life is what happens when you're busy making other plans. I would amend his wisdom to include a corollary: life is also what happens when you're fretting yourself into a frenzy of impatience with the fact that you, mighty human, cannot change the speed of time.
And this the silver lining: you can create the way you experience the passage of time. As Bulwer-Lytton suggests, you can be conscious of doing other things, and develop strength of character by occupying your mind and energy in productive ways. You'll notice that time will pass without your assistance, and eventually your period for impatience will also have passed, without its usual handmaidens, Frustration and Anxiety. Because you've been busy doing other things, things you truly enjoy doing, your experience of time might actually speed up, which is the basis of the book Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. You get to the finish line faster if you're not looking at it. This is akin to not watching a pot as it boils. Go fix the salad greens instead, and before you know it, the kettle will sing.
Patience may be a virtue. It may not be. But I can tell you this for certain: patience is your friend.