The Secret of Patience

“The secret of patience is doing something else in the meanwhile.”

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“In the meanwhile” is beginning to feel like a long time. Five months out from my operation, I’m not running. I am not road cycling due to my physical therapist’s recommendation and increasing pain. So what am I doing in the meanwhile? I’m swimming a little, weight-lifting regularly, and trying to direct 17 fifth and sixth-graders in a school musical that my son wrote. Stretching, icing, and elevating are daily rituals.

My patience is being tried.

The Wikipedia definition of patience states that “Patience (or forbearing) is the state of endurance under difficult circumstances, which can mean persevering in the face of delay or provocation without acting on annoyance/anger in a negative way; or exhibiting forbearance when under strain, especially when faced with longer-term difficulties. Patience is the level of endurance one can take before negativity. It is also used to refer to the character trait of being steadfast.”

Note that patience involves endurance. So do triathlons. Usually one associates enduring pain, or effort, with a triathlon. In training, patience also comes into play. Patience with self, patience with injury, and patience with the whole process of training and racing. It takes time and effort to build muscle and lung power–it doesn’t just happen overnight.

Or, that’s what I keep telling myself. Impatience is probably my biggest character flaw. Sometimes this flaw affects my own behavior, but sometimes it interferes with my ability to work well with others when I expect them to jump to the same conclusions or infer what I am thinking. Patience really is a secret and an art that takes practice.

Now, confronted with a true test, I have to take a step back and think about what is important. Obviously, it is my general health and comfort down the road. Right now it hurts my ankle to mow my lawn, or stand on my feet all day, let alone pound the pavement running. Those are all things I want to be able to do, and if it means modifying my lifestyle a little to do that, I need to accept that. There is an element of faith in patience; trust that my physical therapist is right, trust that progress will be made and faith that small steps backward will lead to big steps forward in the near future.

As a cello teacher, I see on a daily level how impatience can hamper learning. Students want to jump ahead quickly and magically acquire skills that take years to build. Just as I get impatient with myself when I can’t swim as fast as the guy in the lane next to me, my students dwell too much on what they can’t do yet. Part of my role as a teacher is to remind them of where they are, where they came from, and what they have to do still to get to where they want to be. Part of getting to that point will require going a lot slower than they might like to.

Friends, family and a few good books are balancing my sanity. There is nothing like a good cardio workout to alleviate stress. Other outlets–getting more sleep, playing lots of online Scrabble, taking my dog for more walks–are necessary. It’s a waiting period, and if anything, a good time to work on my least favorite character trait.

You must first have a lot of patience to learn to have patience.

Stanislaw J. Lec (1909 – 1966)“Unkempt Thoughts”

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