Patience, the dictionary says, is the ability to accept or tolerate delay, trouble or suffering without getting angry or upset. The key to experiencing patience lies in the ability to accept the things that bother you because it doesn’t require patience to accept things that are not disagreeable or that you enjoy. For instance, if you simply adore sitting in airports for hours on end then it does not require an act of patience to respond to unforeseen and unfixable mechanical delays, neither do you get the karmic credit for being a “patient person” if you adore the drama of missed connections and no sleep. This kind of behavior may make you a unique personality but it is not the same as patience. At this point in my life I would say that I am a patient person, at least more often than I used to be.
There are a lot of pieces that fit into the small word ‘patience’ and that have to be independently managed to get to the ultimate goal of calm amidst what is otherwise chaos or unforeseen and undesirable circumstances. There is acceptance of the situation and that involves understanding what you do or do not have control of in any given situation. There is trust and faith in believing that whatever the temporary condition of the moment is not going to be the condition of forever. There is an element of gratitude and appreciation for what is positive, and most of the time there is something positive if not ideal. And I think there is also a little bit of strength, knowing that you are a person who has the ability to make a choice about how you act in the world and that you are not just a pinball emotionally bouncing off of situations as they happen. All of these together create patience, and patience creates a sense of calm and serenity that makes it easier to manage all the pieces and stay comfortable even when really you are not. It’s a cycle just like everything.
I was very ready to be done with my trip and back in my home, but the plane that had landed did not want to fly again and I did not think I was the right person to argue mechanics of air travel with an airline. Apparently, I learned as I hovered near the service desk, there were ninety-nine people who were missing connections just like me. Someone behind me in the hovering line, which was unofficial because they said ‘don’t line up until we call your destination city,’ said, ‘this is totally unacceptable for people travelling with toddlers.’ She had a toddler in tow. Someone else in line said, ‘this is a total disaster,’ another said, ‘this is a nightmare.’ I said, “this is a bummer and not what I feel like doing.”
It is easy to go to angry, distraught, bereft, blaming – it makes you feel like something productive is happening as you stew on those emotions and yell at someone else. But it doesn’t make any difference to the outcome. Mechanical problems do not get fixed to accommodate small children or people who have meetings to make or people who have been away from home for six days and would really like to hug their husband. I disagreed about the disaster assessment. To me a disaster is loss of home, loss of life, something catastrophic not an inconvenience. We all had shelter, food, indoor plumbing; it seemed to me these people needed to pause and reevaluate the perspective from which they viewed the situation.
Hovering in the unofficial line worked. Right after they dealt with the few people who could still make connections that night they started to deal with the rest of us. I got a flight the next morning and a hotel to sleep in for the night. There was much to be grateful for even while being disappointed by the situation: the bags that were marked to transfer arrived and I was able to have clean clothes and shampoo and a tooth brush, the bed was soft enough and I slept for five or so hours, the shuttle got me back to the airport and through it all the choice I made was to accept the things I could not control and be okay with what was. There were plenty of people who were holding onto a lot of anger, who were nasty and yelling and demanding and we all got on the next plane at the same time. In the end it was just a choice to accept or resist and my blood pressure stayed pretty normal throughout – long-term it was just not that big a deal.
It felt good to be patient, maybe a little self-righteous because I had been the angry person in the past and now I was different; I felt the difference and I knew that the patient me was superior. I felt happy even in the midst of being sad and grumpy, I trusted that it was going to work out and I would get home even as I was frustrated by long lines and lack of control. It was okay, and it is okay and that is how life happens – not always the way we think we want, but a way and it gets us where we are going.