It’s a virtue right? I learned them all in third grade (yea parochial school…)
It would be easy to say I know a lot about patience, and then tell you that its development definitely has a payoff, and that I am now at some great job with great opportunities for growth because I’ve spent years gaining experience in something that can only be learned. But it isn’t true. I’m not at that great job I know I could do better than the next guy. I’m not writing copy for a progressive media company or marketing firm. I take care of animals, and not enough of them to meet a basic wage let alone live comfortably. What’s true here is that I have developed a capacity for patience, and it has taken more than just time.
I am not always the greatest of people. I have been mean. I have been stubborn. I have gotten easily frustrated, been quick to anger and neglectful with forgiveness. I don’t sit atop a hill thinking I have something to teach anyone. I’m pretty sure that’s not my role. As of semi-recently, through acquiring patience, I have found that I am here to quietly listen and help.
“Why is that homeless man yelling?”
“What the crap are these people talking about?”
“Your stupid dog tried to bite me!”
“That old lady has lost her mind, just ignore what she’s saying.”
“This is outrageously annoying. I hate people. Get me out of here.”
“I’ll always fail, won’t I?”
“I wish she would control her children/ walk faster/ calm down/ speak up.”
The list of things we say, ALL THE TIME, goes on and on. I’m not writing this to make you feel guilty. Far from it. I just think that some things are worth an extra moment of open inspection.
In 2007 I began a series of jobs that forced a change in my attitude. I, for no reason whatsoever, became a caregiver at an assisted living facility. My only relevant experience at the time was watching my grandmother go, and seeing the help she received in that process. It was a suck-it-up-these-people-need-you-now-so-learn-fast sort of deal. They need you even if they tell you they don’t, that you are a fat cow, that you stole their money and then threaten or act on physical violence towards you. It doesn’t matter. Fast forward 50 years, and that’s you. Not much use in denying that sort of mental deterioration or that the years will always take their toll.
I learned what they needed, how to talk to them and eventually help some of their worried children understand them too. After less than a year I didn’t have as many residents as I had people dear to me that I still think about and hope the best for. Reality is at least half of them are gone by now, but I appreciate them still. My sweet War Heroes, my devious English Teachers, my Giants of Industry who swooned over Elvis and made me watch reruns of Lawrence Welk (Those short skirts! Scandalous! ) Their basic skills were gone, some of them yelled things like “PURPLE!” when they were frustrated, but they were somehow aware and very much alive.
Then I moved on to animal care. Patients who couldn’t talk with anything but their body language, claws and teeth. I love my animals, but sometimes I really hated everyone else’s.
At best, most were defensive in a hospital environment. Yet who can blame them? They are hurt and/or scared. They are angry because where they come from they were taught to be. Still, without understanding, they are put down and out of mind the moment they have a bit of medical trouble or act out by peeing on a blanket.
I once was asked to “get this done as quickly as possible because there’s only 15 min. on the meter.” Don’t be shocked, more than a few people can’t be bothered to deal with daily shots or weekly sub-q fluids. If their kid got scratched or a neighbor got bit, priorities are weighed. Sometimes it’s asking too much. So the kid pulled a tail or the neighbor startled the dog by sticking a hand in its face or over its head, and not taking a moment to see how uncomfortable the animal became. It’s an aggressive animal in a fragile environment, period. I get it. There are other options, but I do get it.
Learning patience is trying and difficult to say the least. I have been bitten and scratched by animal and human alike (It hurts more with people if you would believe it. More bacteria too, which means worse infections).
So why am I talking about this? Tomorrow I am headed to an interview that may help shape my future in a way that I have actually hoped for. I have been disappointed before when it comes to over inflated expectations. I get a little gung ho and start planning my entire life after one glimmer of hope ahead. That glimmer often times ends up being a shiny gum wrapper or at best, a worn penny tail side up. I am talking about this because tomorrow as I head down to River North, and even right now as I sit here, I have to remind myself to have patience. This may or may not be it. I may or may not take this path. No matter what, with patience I can still retain hope. worse infections). There are countless failures. You find yourself inadequate and judge harshly every time you can’t succeed and feel better, somehow accomplished. Feel you’re making some progress. You start forcing yourself to understand people and things you would never want to. Sometimes you do this only for your mental survival. Those you find to be at their worst, or out of your comprehensive reach, then become much more familiar as understanding goes. That’s your pay off I suppose. Empathy. Not a better situation for yourself, not really, but a window into the separate and solitary minds around you.
I have developed a strange habit. When coming upon a penny in the street tail up, I reach down and turn it over so that someone after me can find it and smile. I know it’s silly, but there is still something in a lucky penny that nostalgia clings to. Patience tells me that even if I don’t end up where I thought, I can believe that with a tiny bit of hopeful patience to keep them going, they might find something even better.