Patience is one of our most useful virtues

Thursday, August 18, 2011 - 06:19
Mountain Echoes

With school just starting, I believe the subject of patience is quite timely. I feel eminently qualified to talk about patience, in that I spent mostof my life totally devoid of this human attribute. Sometimes I think that if I hada modicum of patience as a younger person, I could have done wondrous things. I might have learned how to swim, read music, overcome my mental block on algebra and chemistry, trained a dog to do something impressive, learned how to play golf and perhaps acquired enough skill to draw something more sophisticated than stick figures.

My complete and utter lack of patience during the teenage years can be best illustrated by the way I played basketball, and not coincidentally, why I spent so much time warming the bench. If someone who I was guarding dribbled and dribbled endlessly and kept fooling around, not shooting, I finally gave up, dropped my arms and just let them shoot. Basically, I got bored and wanted it over with.

I recall one occasion, however, when my lack of patience saved the day. During a summer Alaska Department of Fish and Game job on the Alaska Peninsula, it rained for about four weeks straight and our six boats were rapidly filling up with water. With several of the boats about to sink, members of the crew spent hours in the work shed trying to get the water pump fixed. I cut out the bottom of a five-gallon fuel can and began bailing the boats by hand. They got the pump fixed when I was starting on the sixth boat.

I don’t give much credence to horoscopes, but I’m an Aries. I’ve been told that Aries people would rather crash through a wall instead of taking the time to go around to the door. That about sums it up for most of my life. If I didn’t get something right away, like tying knots, I just gave up. I can’t help but laugh at the irony of things, when many years later I was in charge of merit badges with a Boy Scout troop in Eagle River and one of the badges dealt with knots. I don’t know how I faked my way through that.

Children bestow patience: One day I got married and we had two kids. Miraculously, I began to learn patience. Patience in changing diapers, patience in potty training; patiencein getting them to go to bed on time, patience in teaching them how to ride bicycles, patience in homework sessions, patience in school projects, patience in their teenage years, patience in car driving lessons, and patience as we helped them find their way after high school and college.

I probably never thanked my kids for helping me find patience. In fact, the patience that I acquired through them literally saved my life as I pursued one of my favorite pastimes: climbing mountains.

In my younger days when encountering a difficult spot, I would quickly choose a route without thoroughly examining alternatives. This got me into trouble more times than I care to mention. Today, I really take my time and look around. With careful, focused study, one can generally find an easier route than the one that first seems apparent.

I think patience has also helped me in writing. I don’t accept the first word or phrase that comes to mind. I’ve learned how to turn the burner down and let things simmer more slowly.

The different tools I have hanging in my garage now make sense, because I have sufficient patience to use them the way they are supposed to be used. Well, at least some of them.

Having patience is stratospherically delightful when you can vividly recall having absolutely none. If I could somehow bottle patience, or teach it in a class, I would welcome the chance so I could help others. I wonder how many people are holding themselves back from personal achievements because they lack patience. Could some wars and other catastrophes be averted if world leaders possessed more patience? What game-changing inventions or discoveries would be made? Could politicians make more reasoned, sage decisions?

If my kids were successful in teaching me patience, perhaps it can be taught on a broader scale. Maybe it should become a school subject at all levels in our education.

Now why can’t I get my darn computer to save this document?! Okay, I haven’t completely mastered the art of patience.

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.

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