In Pursuit of Patience

If there is one guiding principle that seems to steer my life, it would certainly be patience – or in my case, the lack thereof.

And since I seem to have so little of it, some mysterious force in the universe always guarantees that I’ll find myself in situations where I ll be forced to learn it – like it or not.

That’s why you’ll always find me in the slowest lane at the grocery store: It’s the place where I get punished most.

So far this year, my percentage rate in the slow lane is at 95 percent. Just today, I hurried into an aisle where a woman appeared to be checked through, but I didn’t see the fistful of coupons until it was too late.

Coupons are the scourge of people in a hurry (along with their wicked step-brother the scratch ticket). Coupons seem to have a little deal going with the lights above the cash registers that immediately summon the manager, and today I hit the jackpot. I’m proud to announce that I was very well behaved. There was no rolling of the eyes, or scurrying to find a better aisle, or loud rattling of the National Enquirer. I suffered very gracefully through 10 minutes of coupon wrangling.

Twice in December, I’m proud to announce, I was first in line at the checkout. I expected bells to go off and confetti to come raining down from above. With a degree of suspicion, I approached the cashier to ask if she was really open.

I decided I’d been extra patient for the preceding week and was finally being rewarded.

I’m really trying.

I’m the sort of person who pulls into a parking space and is out of the car and inside the store in 15 seconds. I just get out and go. But my husband always finds something to do in the car. He’s in the glove box or he’s rearranging something or he’s looking for his lost childhood, but I’m typically in the frozen food section before he gets out of the car.

We’ve slowly forged an agreement in our life together on how we’re going to handle patience. He is the master of it and I am the student. He’s never in a hurry to do anything, so he tends to sit in the car when we arrive somewhere while I’m headfirst into tomorrow before he even opens the door. Neither one of us complains.

There are a whole lot of people that could use a course in patience, especially in a world where waiting for your turn is mandatory.

I read recently about two women who started knitting classes for men in a nearby prison. When they first approached the warden about their idea he said, “Men don’t want to knit.”

And one of the woman replied, “Yes, they do. They just don t know it yet.”

They explained how knitting teaches people the things they should have learned in kindergarten: anger management, focus, and meeting goals. Most of all, they said, it teaches patience.

And now there is a waiting list for their Thursday night knitting class in a hard core prison. Imagine that. The men knit hats and dolls for charity and report feeling calmer and wellmore patient overall.

Maybe us Type-A’s need to take up knitting.

The best story about patience comes from a man who observed a mother with her 3-year-old daughter in a grocery store. (Now, anyone who has taken a 3-year-old shopping knows something about patience.)

The man came across them in an aisle where the little girl in the cart was crying for cookies. “Ellen,” the mother said, “We only have half the store to shop through, and then we ll go home.”

He spied them in another aisle, and the little girl was crying for candy. “Ellen, we have just two more aisles to go down, and then we ll be heading to the car.”

He happened to be behind them at the checkout line, and saw the little girl throw a tantrum when the mother refused her gum. “Ellen,” she said, “In five minutes we ll be on our way home and you can take a nap when we get there.”

The man was impressed with the mother s resilience in handling her daughter, and so he approached her and said, “I just want to compliment you on your patience with Ellen.”

“Oh,” the mother said laughing. “My daughter’s name is Tammy. I’m Ellen.”

I think Ellen has earned an empty checkout lane and a cashier with wings on her next shopping trip.