Are We There Yet?

We’re now within day-counting distance of the Year 2021. Along with many others, I’m more than ready to see 2020 in my rearview mirror. But let me quickly say that the year wasn’t a total waste. I’d waited (somewhat impatiently) for decades to hold my first grandchild. It happened in 2020 — and she is, in a word, spectacular. For her, I bless the Year 2020. For the rest? Meh.

Maybe my expectations for how life should be are simply too high. You wouldn’t be the first to suggest it. I want improvements, say, the elimination of systemic racism, and I want it now. My absolute earliest memories are of being told to calm down, slow down, and settle down. I never bought into the notion that we should make change later, at some vague “tomorrow.”

If patience is defined as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset,” I don’t have it. Throughout 2020, I’d wake up each morning fearing Trump’s destruction, and I’d go to bed angry at who and what he’d violated that day. I bumped along between fear and anger.

My addiction to the 24-hour news cycle being broadcast a few feet away probably contributed to my restlessness. A hundred years ago the news came by radio or newspaper, typically once a day. Now, the news comes at us in hourly fragments. Between breakfast and bedtime, I’ve heard the same stories of brokenness a dozen times and I’m ready to have someone “fix it.” Now.

Patience isn’t a virtue I’ve pursued in my life, but I’m beginning to search for it now. My impatience with things I cannot change compounds my feelings of frustration. What’s more, it contributes to a sense of social paralysis — that if I can’t fix everything, now, I’ve failed.

The reality of life is that I am not in control of much of it. I can offer my patience prayer as often as I wish — “Lord, give me patience…NOW!” — and it doesn’t change anything.

There must be something like “righteous impatience.” I don’t believe in passivity in the face of child abuse or rampant hunger. We need to be urgent in meeting the needs of our neighbors.

But not everything good will happen overnight. It has taken the current Administration four years to nearly destroy our democracy, tweet by tweet. The brutalities have a month to go as they “hurry all Federal executions” to kill as many prisoners as possible before January 20th.

If it has taken four years to suffer this amount of debasement and destruction. President Biden and Vice President Harris won’t be able to repair it in a week, or a month, or probably even a year. Our broken government and ripped up society are going to need repairs bit by bit, stitch by stitch. If my happiness depends on the new Administration achieving the impossible, instantly, I may as well reach for the sedatives now. Patience is a better option than pills.

“Patience is the art of hoping,” wrote Luc de Clapiers, and there’s reason for hope as we slide out of the Year of Calamity. We will soon have, after years of narcissism, a leader who cares for America. Politics as warfare may be ever-so-slightly calming. At least two vaccines are headed our way. Communities are starting vulnerable, and long overdue, conversations about systemic racism. There’s reason for hope and, therefore, for patience so long as I don’t try to impose my definitions of success and my timelines for achievement.

I’ll try not to complain about social isolation and other COVID inconveniences because, in fact, I have the luxury of patience. I need to increase my gratitude for those who are not isolating because they’re healthcare workers, or they’re fire fighters, or folks delivering groceries or caring for old folks in nursing homes. I have the luxury of patience because I’ve not been placed at the front-line of the pandemic. It’d be a shame to waste this opportunity for growth.

I still want justice for Americans of every color, and I want it now. I want lives protected and saved in elder-care communities; now. I want preschoolers protected; now. I want decency and high ethics restored to the White House; now. And when I see my growing list of demands for changing the world in which I live, and changing it now, someone reminds me of Rumi’s observation: “Yesterday, I was clever so I wanted to change the world. Today, I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

I need to work on Mary’s patience. I’ll look for opportunities to practice deep breathing and genuine understanding. I’ll try to hold more reasonable expectations, more generous timelines for change and, when my desires aren’t realized, less anger and more quiet acceptance, fewer demands and more gratitude. I do not expect to achieve sainthood. Enough patience to sooth my blood pressure and let me fall asleep would do very nicely.

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