Patience – Skill, or Virtue?

I always thought that patience comes with experience. That as you get older, and practice more, you gain more and more patience. When I was a kid, I was impatient to get older and gain more freedom. I hated standing in lines, or waiting for just about anything.

When I got to my 20s and 30s, and had children, I had a lot of practice in being patient. And gradually, it worked–I didn’t mind standing in lines, I didn’t get upset when traffic was slow.

Now I’m in my 40s and suddenly my former ideas about patience are being questioned. I look at myself and my peer group, and our behavior suggests we are getting less patient, not more patient. In fact, I often joke that I am turning into a curmudgeon! I’m getting a headstart on being a crotchety old lady.

I started thinking–why would I be getting less patient? I even have less patience with my kids, who are the main reason I ever learned patience in the first place. My son still lives at home even though he’s 21. That would try the patience of Mother Theresa, I think! My middle daughter is 15 and will be a junior in high school this fall. She’s learning to drive (which is worth a separate post all to itself!), which can be nerve-wracking at times. And my youngest is 9–on the outer borders of puberty but trying desperately hard to hold on to childhood.

Could it be that subconsciously I am impatient for them to grow up? It seems a terrible thought, doesn’t it? I often look at babies or young children and grow nostalgic for when my kids were that little. So cute and ornery, so full of innocent yet wise observations and remarkably humorous ones too! But I’ve been parenting for more than 21 years now. I suppose it’s possible that somewhere deep inside my brain, I am thinking “Am I done yet?”

After all, perhaps this is secretly a common thought among parents. Even great poets seem to have this kind of mixed emotion:

When I am alone I am happy.
The air is cool. The sky is
flecked and splashed and wound
with color. The crimson phalloi
of the sassafras leaves
hang crowded before me
in shoals on the heavy branches.
When I reach my doorstep
I am greeted by
the happy shrieks of my children
and my heart sinks.
I am crushed.
–William Carlos Williams, from “Waiting”

I suppose I need to meditate more. For a time, some years back, I meditated every day for a period of about three or four months. And the difference was amazing. My blood pressure went down. I got angry less often. Things that used to irritate me or make me agitated simply didn’t bother me.

At the very least, perhaps I need to remember to get out into nature more. Being around trees, or running water, or going to the beach or the mountains, always relaxes me. It reminds me of the things that are truly important, and grounds me in reality. I’ll end with another poem that reminds me of my affinity for nature.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
–Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things”


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