While in the midst of creating, cleaning, assembling, decorating, and all other manner of prepping for Eric’s birthday party this Sunday, I took it in my mind to try an unearth some notes I made to myself a couple of years ago about Hitchcock films, one of my passions. I have seen—what was it?—something like 33 of his 54 films and have it as a project/bucket list item to watch his whole film ouvre.

Certainly, trying to find a particular notebook full of notes (and I have many) is something to do when you are trying to otherwise prep for a big event, right? I soon abandoned that effort, not finding the Hitchcock notebook. However, I did find an old, old notebook from June of 2002. In June 2002, I had just graduated from Stanford and wasn’t particularly sure what my next phase of life would entail. Back home with my parents, I had a bit of time to take stock, worked at a natural foods bakery, began to substitute teach (finding my passion in the process), and had ample time to write and search myself.

Somewhere along the way of that journey, a few weeks after I must have returned home, I scribbled this:

 “Patience: giving time to another as a symbol of your belief that the inner goodness of that other will emerge.”

Underneath that, I had written some hurried thoughts about goodness being a property that emerges over time. Not bad, 22-year-old self, not too bad. The definition could use some tweaking, for sure, but I love the spirit of it.

I posted this 22-year-old-Sarah’s definition of “patience” on my Facebook wall a few days ago. Then my mom asked in response,

“Did it work?”

Of all the questions I thought about in my own head when I re-read my writing from nine years ago, my mom’s question was perhaps the most provocative.

Did my definition of patience work?

I think it has proved true over the past nine years, and I think it still works to an extent. Even with maturity and experience, I nevertheless keep my idealistic nature highly polished and my ideals shiny. I believe almost everyone (and yes, I do in my old age now exclude serial killers/murderers, rapists, and those who hurt children or torture innocent animals) has a well of goodness inside of himself or herself. I admit that when this ideal comes out to trot and play, it has occasionally been buffeted about, sometimes even beaten almost within an inch of its life; yet still this ideal persists as one of my most beloved about human nature.

Yet my definition troubles me a bit. At age thirty-one, I ask myself these questions about my definition of patience:

1) What if someone is showing us his or her goodness, and we don’t recognize it right away? Maybe the goodness is coming to us in a form that requires us to challenge ourselves. Who is to say, exactly, what constitutes goodness and what does not?

2) What if our time of interaction with the other person is short? For example, on the roadway. Isn’t it easy to become impatient with “bad drivers”—however each of us defines a bad driver? We simply do not have the benefit of repeat experiences with a random person on the road, often leading to flash-in-the-pan impatience. How do we cultivate patience in a short duration? My definition might encompass this, however, if you think of willing patience as being a symbolic act. Perhaps we choose to put our minds into a patient and loving state on the road (or in line at the market, or toward a customer service provider on the phone) by keeping in mind that we’re really only seeing one aspect of that other person, not the whole.

3) What about being patient toward ourselves? My definition at 22-years-old puts all the emphasis on extending patience outwardly, on who the other person is or might be. Nine years later, with teaching experience and mothering experience, I know now that patience toward others begins with offering patience to ourselves. We should worry less, perhaps, about someone else’s goodness emerging and more on how to offer to others what might be good in ourselves.

One part of my definition that I still love is the idea of giving time as a symbolic act of beauty. We think of how much in our lives is not totally within our control—including other people—and we realize that both the simplest and most profound response to those variables is to proffer space and time before reacting. So little in life requires an immediate response, despite our modern culture of cell phones and texting and e-mail and television trying to force us to believe we need to be instantly reactive. I hold this view as strongly, or more strongly, than I did at age twenty-two. Much is gained when we allow ourselves space and time to craft what is most beautiful within us, when we stop to think about how to react, when we allow time to disable the negativity we sometimes feel from feeding. How do we put into the world something that is measured, steady, thoughtful, and beautiful? It is the art of letting the right amount of time pass before reacting. Each situation calls for a different measure of time. This is patience.

I am still working on my measures. And in this, I give myself the gift of time to get it right, in just the way I hope I may extend that gift to others.

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