I am not a patient person. It is the middah (soul trait) that I find most challenging. Despite a decade of practicing Mussar, I still find myself muttering under my breath at a slow-to-change red light, tapping my foot in the grocery line as the clerk exchanges small talk with the customer in front of me, and finishing sentences of people who speak slowly.
The other night, my study group talked about patience. We discussed such helpful quotes as “The essence of patience is to live in the present. We are impatient because we want to be in the future faster than reality will take us there. ” (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin.)
We shared examples of future events that we were awaiting – from learning the fate of a lost dog to getting the results of a medical test. The question was: Could we wait with patience and trust rather than impatience and fear?
The discussion turned to the fact that patience, like all soul traits, requires a balance. As Mussar Institute founder Alan Morinis writes, on one end of the spectrum is impatience, on the other is passivity. Is there a time when impatience is the proper response, I pondered. Does impatience lead to crucial action?
At the end of the evening, our routine is for group members to announce a practice that will help us work on the soul trait of the month. In the past, my patience practices included taking a deep breath or silently repeating the mantra, “What’s the rush?”
This time, however, I decided that my practice for impatience would be to redirect it. Rather than challenge myself to be less impatient, I would try to become impatient when it is called for – not at a red light or in a traffic jam, but at an injustice.
After yet another school shooting in Colorado this month, I choose to be impatient with the lack of progress since I stood on the lawn outside of Columbine High School 20 years ago, watching traumatized students sobbing in each other’s arms as their injured classmates were carried into ambulances.
As I write this, a news flash from The Denver Post comes across my phone – “Denver area sees more school shootings by population than nation’s 24 largest metro areas, analysis shows.” That headline makes me impatient!!
When are Coloradans going to do something and what is my part in this? I know it’s not simple. One of my friends, an attorney, reminds me that crime is about motive and opportunity. So how do we eliminate the killers’ motives: Providing better mental health services? Creating a kinder, more welcoming school climate? Changing the societal norm to civility rather than hostility? And opportunity: How do we ensure kids don’t have access to guns? Do we hold parents more accountable? Provide more school security?
It’s a complex problem with no easy answers. Yet we have to do better. The measles epidemic resulted in an immediate call to find ways to increase the vaccination rate. We have a violence epidemic in our schools. Where is the political will to address it? I make a vow: I will redirect my impatience to action, petitioning my elected officials to get to work on this issue NOW.