In his children’s classic “Winnie-the-Pooh,” A.A. Milne once wrote, “Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
Of course, such an idea is easier said than done. It is very difficult to wait patiently when phone calls need to be made, deadlines are approaching, and dinner should have been done 20 minutes ago.
But patience, as the old adage goes, is a virtue, mainly because it is something we must, reluctantly, use every single day.
Just last week, I underwent an exercise in patience. My family travelled to South Dakota on vacation. The trip spans five states and takes about 20 hours to complete.
Before I go any further, I want to say that this exercise in patience had nothing to do with frayed tempers. We all got along well, laughing and joking (and, of course, sleeping. There is always a lot of sleeping on long road trips.) In fact, the only argument we had was a debate over whether the pillows at our first hotel were bigger than the ones at the second.
Instead, our patience was focused on one word: waiting. Let’s face it, one can only sleep, call Slug Bugs, and listen to music for so long before yearning for that faraway prize – the travel destination. And, after hours of cramped sitting, such a place begins to feel as mystical as Hogwarts.
But eventually, we reached our goal, Rapid City, and the many and varied sites which surround it, a few of which are the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and the Crazy Horse Monument.
Thinking back on those three places, I can’t help but realize how little patience our trip actually required.
Mount Rushmore, for example, took 14 years to complete.
The Crazy Horse Monument is still under construction, and has been for the past 50 years. It is expected to take another 50 years to finish.
And the Badlands … well, some of its fossil beds date back 35 million years.
Of course, there’s a big difference between sitting in a car and chiseling away a mountain, whether with explosives or with nature’s steady hand. And yet, such monuments tell us one thing: Patience is simply a part of life.
Patience gave us the earth as we know it, with its diverse landscapes and breathtaking views. And life comes from patience, waiting for an egg to hatch or a baby to be born. And patience is needed for any milestone, from graduations to birthdays.
Yet, in the fast-paced, instantaneous world that is the 21st century, patience can feel like an unwanted house guest.
And I know that I am guilty of such a mindset. Patience has never been my strongest suit. I’m the person who after only a couple of minutes in a line, says, “Do you want to play 20 questions?”
Not long ago, in an episode of Natural Geographic’s “Brain Games,” I was struck by an experiment. While the episode was examining addiction, I can’t help but feel the results were also noteworthy in terms of patience.
In the experiment, individuals were told they were participating in a focus group and that they were prohibited from using their cell phones. After their phones were placed just out of reach, the hosts left the room to address “technical difficulties.” Left alone with only their phones and each other, one participant didn’t even last five minutes before checking his phone. Others commented on how difficult it was for them to sit still.
The point of the experiment? To prove that many adults are addicted to their cell phones (and, indeed, most were). But what struck me was that these adults (not fidgeting children), couldn’t even muster a modicum of patience.
It’s sad to think that something so integral to our existence has become, in many ways, a lost art.
I can’t help but be reminded of an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” where, after a visiting preacher’s sermon focuses on relaxing and enjoying simple pleasures, the citizens hurriedly work to recreate an old tradition. And then, when the preacher sees them later sprawled on the front porch, he congratulates them, mistaking their exhaustion for relaxation.
Looking back, that episode seems almost prophetic in its lesson – one which we still seem to be learning. Yet, as the years pass, the value of patience seems to be dwindling rather than increasing and, like the citizens of Mayberry, relaxation seems to come only when we are too exhausted for anything else.
But here’s to hoping that with a little bit of patience, perhaps we can learn to stop, take a deep breath, and follow nature’s example: wait and let those many, simple, and inevitable wonders flourish.
Sarah Allen may be reached at 937-402-2571 or on Twitter @SarahAllenHTG.