• Mair Elliott

Patience cannot be prescribed, but it can be practiced.

Last week I needed to kill some time before catching a train home one morning. I found a café to sit in and ordered coffee and breakfast. I turned my phone off and put it away. The coffee was beautifully smooth but strong, just as I like it. I sat in front of a large window which looked out over a pedestrianised street. Given the time of day, people were moving on mass to work. As I savoured my drink, I watched the people outside going about their lives, wondering where they’d come from and where they were going. As I was daydreaming, the lady on the table next me, who’d been fussing, fidgeting and tapping away on her phone, leant across and blurted out in an annoyed tone;

“Can't believe the waitress hasn’t taken my order yet?! I’ve been waiting over 10 minutes!”

Now, I don’t like talking to people at the best of times, but snotty strangers are particularly unwelcome. I just shrugged my shoulders and went back to my own little world. A couple of minutes later, the busy waitress who was attempting to serve a large group of businessmen hadn’t come over to the lady next to me. The lady packed up her stuff in a huff, strutted over to the waitress, asked for her name and said that she’s be putting in a complaint, before waltzing out with the air of self-importance. I must admit, I was secretly hoping she’d trip and fall flat on her face.

I couldn’t believe it. Firstly, I had clocked the lady coming in and sitting down, it was certainly less 10 minutes she’d been waiting. Secondly, it was clear that the waitress was on her own and was busy trying to serve roughly 10 men, each with the strong whiff of god-complex and misogyny. To me, it was clear that the waitress was doing her best in the circumstances and was perfectly lovely and professional when she took my order. When she came back to check on me a couple of minutes later, I felt I had to tell her not to worry about the lady who walked out. The lady was impatient and rude, and it wasn’t a measure on her as a waitress or as a person.

The whole incident has really bothered me. It was a fine example of how impatient we have become as a society. Was it really so difficult to wait a couple of minutes longer for the waitress to take the order? Whilst that lady fussed and tapped away on her phone, I saw a young couple walk past deep in love, a toddler pick up a leaf and proudly give it to his mum, two elderly ladies walk past roaring with laughter, a young women help a delivery man who had dropped a crate of goods, and a group of mums and buggies walk past deep in discussion. Had she put her phone down and given herself the opportunity to sit quietly and watch, she could have also enjoyed these beautiful and simple acts of human life. Instead, she was stressed and irritable, and in the process made herself appear like a complete tosser and was unnecessarily rude to a perfectly nice human being.

We all rush around as if the world would literally implode if we stopped, we are already stressing out over the next thing before the current thing has even finished, and god forbid that something is late or takes slightly longer than expected. The modern age, where we can get anything we want with a tap on the phone screen, has made us all intolerant to waiting. We are a society of impatience. What good is it doing us? The proverbial rat race is not a race at all; we are running not to get to a finish line, but because we’ve forgotten how to stop running. It’s no wonder that chronic and toxic stress and anxiety levels are sky high.

It’s easy to get dragged into this, I know. I often feel as if the world is moving too fast for me and the only solution would be to run faster to catch up. However, over the last couple of years I’ve learnt the opposite to be true. When the world is moving too fast for me, I give myself the space and the time to stop and wait for the world to slow down around me. I travel a lot, and this means I often end up stood on train platforms waiting for delayed trains. I could in these moments get angry and have a temper tantrum, as I’ve seen many others do, or I could accept there’s nothing I can do to fix it and give myself the opportunity to just stop. Truth be told, I love these moments, these opportunities, to just stop and breathe now.

I actively choose to practice patience. Driving up the backside of a slow driver won’t get me to my destination any faster, so I may as well pull back and be patient. What I have found by actively choosing to be patient I have started to just be patient, as if it is a skill I have learned and developed. I am far less stressed and anxious. The world doesn’t seem like it’s spinning out of control as much, and when it does, it doesn’t affect me as much. I am less irritable and a nicer person. The added bonus being that when I get these opportunities, like I did in the café, I notice the small yet magical details of humanity and life, like a toddler seeing a leaf and gifting it to his mum.

As a society we have lost the skill of patience. Even in politics the drive of impatience has created a phenomenon of having a constant bombardment of sound bites with the word ‘now’ in them. Unless there is a Politian who’s secretly a sorcerer, then none of the large societal issues will actually get sorted ‘now’. It’s a word that plays into our collective impatience. We are increasingly becoming dissatisfied because we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to stop and notice the unassuming beauty of simplicity. So why not actively practice patience? Why not learn to give ourselves the opportunity to stop and breathe? To put down our phones, put down the work, and watch the world spin on around us? Patience cannot be prescribed, but it can be practiced.

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