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patience is a virtue


People frequently tell me I am very patient. But really I am not. I am quiet and sometimes filled with repressed rage and I think many times people mistake that as patience. I learned how to hold most of my feelings in and present a happy face regardless of the situation. Consequently, I have a pretty good poker face. The lesson stopped short, however, at holding in grief. I cannot fight down tears and that's a bummer.

I wish I could cry like a soap star. You know what I'm talking about. The face goes pensive, lips are held stoically together, nose stays clean and dry, the eyes show all of the emotion and the tears pool at the bottom of the eyelids then overflow and silently traipse down the chiseled cheekbones. The actress is still rendered mentally functional, she does not have to stop to blow her nose and most importantly, her voice remains clear and everyone can understand what she is saying.

If you're paying close attention you can read between the lines and figure out what I am like when I cry (insert knowing wink here).

So back to my patience or rather my perceived patience. For me it really stems from one of two origins: either I am suppressing mounting rage or I am indifferent. Hmm, as I look at that I see it feeds nicely into my all or nothing/black or white tendencies. (Note to self: You are a one-trick pony.)

A good example of suppressing rage would be standing at the return counter at Target waiting for the cashier associate to finish her personal phone call and acknowledge me. No, no one was in front of me. Nope, no one was behind me, either. It was just me and my red basket, waiting about three feet in front of the counter. Yeah, I didn't want to crowd her or anything. It's annoying when someone is in your face like that.

I waited, patiently, and it got awkward. For me. I did feel the rage mounting because I just wanted to return my stupid shirt. When she did finish her call she proceeded to work on her register and clean up the counter. In case you're wondering, no, she did not acknowledge me waiting patiently. So I stood there, suppressing my rage, with a neutral look on my face. Finally, she looked me in the face, smiled and said, "Can I help you?"

We finished our transaction and I actually thanked her at the end of it.

Now at the other end of the spectrum we have my patience which is fueled by indifference. A good example of this would be shopping alone at the grocery store and waiting in line to pay. I do like to peruse the tabloid rags while waiting for the person in front of me, but sometimes none are available, like at Costco. Then I like to people watch. The key to this is being alone. If I have my kids with me, usually my patience is fueled by rage (see above). But when I am alone, I have a totally different frame of mind.

It's like the story my mom used to tell. She had six kids, five in seven years, and did not learn to drive until the fifth kid was three years old. Because of that, on Saturdays my dad would load everyone in the station wagon, drive my mom to the grocery store and sit in the car with the five kids while my mother shopped.

She paints the following picture. It's the middle of summer, the mercury is hitting 93 degrees and the grocery store has air conditioning unlike the station wagon. My mom is strolling, casually down the aisles, carefully considering each purchase. She's reading the backs of the soup cans wondering exactly how monosodium glutamate affects the flavor of chicken soup. Meanwhile my dad is screaming at five kids in a green station wagon.

Back then, my father was of the mind set that men work outside the home (figuratively and literally) and that women handle everything inside the home. In his head he punched the clock and was done with work after an eight-hour shift. My mother, on the other hand, worked 24-hours a day and it was her job to keep those kids quiet and fed, otherwise why was she home all day? This led to much mayhem and hilarity. (The preceding statement is true only if you remove the last two words.)

So in true passive-aggressive form, my mother got payback each week in the form of a leisurely experience at the grocery story. When she got back to the car she would tell my dad, "The lines inside the store were insane! They were snaking all the way through the food aisles." And they would drive home in silence.

When I am alone at the grocery store, I do enjoy every minute of the mundane task at hand. It's nice to take a break from my kids and read the soup cans. I like being able to check out the fiber content of Kellogg's newest cereal, All Bran Yogurt Bites. I like watching other parents wrangle with their temperamental children. I like surveying my cashier's state of mind. Some are chatty and friendly. Some are just there to pay the bills, thank you very much.

So when my patience is required and I am alone, I want the person I am waiting for to take his or her time. I can wait for hours because this is time for me, even though I am not using it doing something I really want to do. I'll take whatever I can get these days.

Perhaps it's like the old saying goes: God gives us many opportunities to practice patience.

I have three opportunities (aged 6, 3 and 18 months) to practice patience every day. Lord help us.


2007-01-25 at 6:39 a.m.

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