IS THIS OVER YET?
Testing our patience
By Martha E. Fagan, RN, BSN
I don’t know about you but I am feeling a bit impatient AND I don’t like admitting to this impatience. I’m craving things to go back to “normal.” Of course in my heart of hearts I know there is no returning to our known version of normal, which only exacerbates my impatience.
And, I know I’m choosing to continue to observe social distancing and take a very cautious approach as things are opening up around me. I believe strongly we have to be cautious as this pandemic is nowhere near over, however, that belief does not make it any easier.
I want a hair cut and color (thought I could embrace gray though now I’m not so sure), I hate how hot I feel in my mask, I get antsy in line waiting for the curbside deliveries, I miss holding my grandchildren close, I miss sailing, I miss seeing friends for a casual gathering, I miss browsing in the Bacon Free Library and the Wellesley Bookstore, and I’m tired of having to think before I do just about everything. All these yearnings and desires are just below the surface and I’m working to keep them in check.
I know I’m not alone in this…our collective restlessness is palpable. This morning I opened my email and even Sam Sifton in his NY Times Cooking email was bemoaning his current mood—“Good morning! Joy is in short supply these days, and patience, too. Nerves are tingling. I haven’t shaken a hand or hugged someone outside my family in more than three months. Cooking’s supposed to be a solace—I say that every day—but I acknowledge that some days it doesn’t seem possible. I do it anyway (gotta eat). I do it anyway (it’s a practice, same as singing scales, same as draining free throws). I do it anyway (I believe).”
The reality is…I’m scared of where we are now and potentially where we’re heading. I feel as though our collective impatience is leading us down a dangerous road. We’re just tired of life with these restrictions and we can easily rationalize …”We’ve been good for months now so can’t we just lighten up and get back to our routines?”
I believe the answer is NO.
I wrote in an earlier piece about what increases our fear and anxiety—
- Feeling a lack of control
- Fearing the unknown
- Uncertainty of duration
In reality, nothing has changed since we began this journey. We are still learning new things about the Coronavirus daily as details keep changing about what is safe and what isn’t, there is no vaccine, and cases are increasing in many parts of the country as we are reopening.
No wonder we’re impatient for change, feeling on edge and sometimes acting out of frustration and judgment. Add to this the current climate of national distress and unrest and being patient becomes close to impossible.
Rabbi Rachel Saphire shared some views on patience in a sermon recently, “Patience is not just the ability to wait for something. It’s the ability to endure discomfort. In English, “to be patient” is related to the noun “being a patient”—a person who suffers from pain. In Hebrew the word patience is savlanut, from the root sovel, literally meaning, ‘to bear a burden’.”
Patience is painful and can be a burden.
Our discomfort builds up inside us, gathering steam; we glorify what we’re missing or in this case our recent past “normal” and find it hard to hold our tongue, not criticize and not take action impulsively .Even if most of us have what we need physically right now, we yearn for what’s missing…comfort, security and certainty. We feel trapped.
There’s nothing wrong with allowing these feelings space within us, acknowledging them and accepting our frustration or our wish for things to be different. The challenge lies in what we do with these feelings. And this is where patience comes in. Jon Kabat-Zinn one of the leading experts in the field of mindfulness studies tells us, “Patience is a form of wisdom. It demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time.”
So what can we do to practice patience?
We can remind ourselves to stay in the present moment by focusing on what’s important right now. For me it’s keeping my family and myself healthy, both physically and emotionally, while remembering my impact on the “greater good”. Our simple choices today do make a difference to our network of family and friends, our community and ultimately our world.
We may not be able to do what we’d like right now AND we can make the most of what we can do. We can look through a lens of gratitude for what we do still have and for the simple pleasures that grace each day…sunshine and mild temperatures (imagine going through this during a New England gray winter?), a smile on ZOOM, a home cooked meal, a hug from the family members sheltering with us. And, there are some “silver linings” to be found…evening meals shared, family walks, jigsaw puzzles, or connecting with distant family and friends across the miles.
Taking a deep breath brings us back to the moment and we can pause in that moment. From that place we can choose how we want to respond….from a place of strength and kindness which will serve us to act in ways that bring forth our best.
Or, we can allow our impatience to cause us to act from a place of impulsivity, harshness or judgment…yelling at our kids or partner, using sarcasm to communicate, judging other’s choices, or taking unnecessary risks
Which do we choose?
I think most of us will agree we can choose to live with the “pain” of patience if it means we will act in ways that will keep us safer, kinder and emerge from this place of discomfort having learned to endure.
Martha Fagan is the Vice Chair of the Bacon Free Library. She may be reached through her email at [email protected]