When I opened my computer this morning, I was presented as a very long list of quotations, mostly by famous people, extolling the virtue of patience.
I stopped reading midway through the list and scrolled to the bottom to see how long the list was. “No time for this, “I thought. “I’ll get back to it later.”
Now I can’t find it.
No matter. There are plenty more where that came from.
Search Google for “quotations on patience” and it fairly erupts with virtuous bromides:
- “360 quotations about patience that will make you tougher (and wiser)”
- “35 inspirational quotes on patience”
- “586 patience quotes to explore and share — inspirational”
Goodreads offers 1,509 quotes on patience.
I have not the patience to go through all these.
Based on my early morning sampling — mind you, I also haven’t got the patience to do an actual statistically correct analysis — I concluded that most of the people with something to say about patience are men.
And many of their observations seem aimed directly at women.
When you conduct a similar search for “quotations on patience by women” this one shows up, over and over: “Patience makes a woman beautiful in middle age.”
Clearly, written by a man.
What you don’t see are quotes like this:
- “There is nothing more beautiful than an impatient woman who knows what she wants and isn’t shy about getting it.”
- Or, “An impatient woman is the grease that keeps a delusional man moving in the right direction.”
- Or, “One impatient woman can do the work of three men in half the time (because, you know, kids, laundry, and dinner too).”
This reminds me of an expression, which I could very well be making up as I write: “There are two kinds of people in the world, those who do and those who write about it.”
I do believe that people who practice patience aren’t the ones writing about it.
But I do believe that behind every good man who spends all his time thinking and writing about the virtue of patience, there is a saintly woman who practices it.
Yes, women could tell us a lot about patience if they weren’t so busy practicing it.
It occurs to me that I have been married to a most wonderful woman for as long as I have because she has a deep well of patience, at least as deep as my well of faults.
Oris that a deep well of tolerance? No, I think it is patience. Maybe one well of each.
Patience is her believing that someday I will see the light and shave off the beard. Patience is her giving me an extra day to take out the garbage like I promised to on Wednesday. Patience is her checking in on ghostly feet as I lay in bed too sick to move. Patience is her gently prodding my memory for names of people and places I once recalled instantly.
I think consciously practicing patience has helped us both as we spend these weeks together in self-isolation. The pandemic was not ours to own but the current solution is ours to embrace. We will avoid going out, we will wear masks when we do, and we will keep a safe distance from others because this is what the best knowledge of medical experts and scientists tell us will help fight the virus.
We are fortunate that we enjoy each other’s company and that we do not have the financial stresses burdening so many. Maybe we’ve worked out all the petty annoyances over the years — we don’t sweat the small stuff. We don’t test each other’s patience.
One of the best quotes on patience is from Albert Einstein, and it doesn’t even mention the word patience: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
Who knew that when Einstein was being absent-minded he was actually completely focused on complex problems, patiently understanding that solutions come in time.
That’s a quote everyone who is writing a book should post on the wall.
Patience is writing, writing, writing — even when your characters seem to be off somewhere else, doing something else, having a better time than you are.
Patience is knowing that they will be back, but only if you keep writing, writing, writing.
Writing is a way of leaving the door to your imagination open so that inspiration can walk in and take over.
That takes patience — when things just are not happening the way you imagined.
I don’t think you can have patience without optimism. And optimism needs to be grounded in the belief that a good outcome is possible. For example, from experience, Rose knows that I will eventually take out the garbage.
Optimism fuels my patience as I return to last Wednesday’s New York Times Crossword puzzle for the third time to finish it — in 54 minutes 17 seconds (with quite a bit of “cheating”).
Patience is what quite a few people haven’t got at the moment. And more are losing it by the day.
I have empathy but no real advice for them. How people respond in a crisis was shaped long ago, maybe starting when we were kids.
I come from a large family — nine kids, all but one a boy. We learned patience — waiting for the bathroom, for dinner, for our parents’ attention, for new clothes, for help with homework, for privacy, for a baseball glove or bicycle.
Nothing came when we wanted it, just because we wanted it.
Every night, my mother would roll dinner out on a sideboard to my father’s place at the head of the table. He would fill each plate, one by one, and send it down the line. We would sit their hands folded on our laps waiting for the last plate to be filled. God help the boy who tried to sneak in a bite or two before prayers.
A boy develops a certain steely discipline, sitting there in near-starvation after a hard day playing baseball with the neighborhood kids.
Probably the one thing none of us had to wait for was love. It might have been spread a little thin but it was always there.
Patience has its faults. I was perhaps too patient as my mother was dying in a Florida hospital from a host of viruses that kept attacking her, even though she only came in for a hairline fractured in her hip.
I watched as the cleaning woman took her mop and bucket of filthy water from one germ-containment room to the next, mopping each floor with the filth and germs accumulated in a half-dozen previous rooms.
I questioned the hospital staff about this and was met with indifference. Perhaps I should have checked my patience at the door. Maybe she would have seen a few more great-grandchildren born.
All this being said, patience is not my strength. When I lose it, I tend to say mean, hurtful things. My Museum of Regret is filled with the times I yelled at someone at work, or tossed off some cruel remark, or made someone cry.
Not a one deserved it.
I hope I’m less like that today. (You should see the mean things I have trimmed out of this essay already.) Like a lot of things that are good, patience requires work, constant work, and awareness. I’m flawed. So are you. Let us find ways to live with that.
Practice, practice, practice.
And occasionally look in the mirror and patiently tell myself, “I can do better. I can be better”