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Who likes waiting? Some people can summon huge reservoirs of patience for months, even years. “Patience is a virtue,” they remind us, knowing many people couldn’t care less about virtue. In elementary school, a year lasted approximately 72 months. Not that we’re an impatient species, but we mutter when we have to wait for fast food. Of course, waiting for tickets to a special event such as the Super Bowl or a concert doesn’t count. The end justifies the time and inconvenience. People used to camp out to buy the latest Harry Potter book—before the Far Right decided children shouldn’t be exposed to imagination. Or reality.
In the last couple years, our ability to wait has been sorely tested. Disruptions in the supply chain felt like personal affronts when products—such as trucks previously ordered—couldn’t arrive, or when our postal administrators decided the public could certainly wait longer for mail. Being stuck in our homes in quarantine with no definite release date in sight presented a kind of waiting test most of us had never experienced before. How could we plan! We were bored.
Recently, a number of my friends have been infected with COVID—long after we had hoped the virus would be relegated to just-annoying flu status (although flu can certainly be deadly). With varying degrees of severity and mysterious, unpredictable long COVID looming, the ongoing possibility of contagion is sobering. So now we wait for the next incarnation of Omicron and the new booster, hoping this vaccine will be the one to set us free—thanks to the hard work of scientists who endure daily derision after spending years being educated. Meanwhile, with restrictions largely removed, contagion is creeping into populations that thought they were home free.
We fret over each cough and pull out the home tests when our temperatures rise. We’re constantly anxious to see if we can stay well and still function with normalcy. I’m reminded of the 1959 book/movie ON THE BEACH in which people in Australia were the last survivors of a nuclear holocaust that killed the world population with drifting lethal radiation. Of course, survival was only temporary since the winds would eventually bring airborne death to even remote areas. Some chose to spend their brief reprieve living lavishly or lasciviously or in penitence as they waited to feel the signs of radiation sickness—anticipating inevitable death because the world was poisoned into the foreseeable future. In daily reality, many confront the same kind of end-of-life waiting when they can’t halt a terminal disease. I remember my dad, who was condemned by heart disease, complaining, “I didn’t know dying would take so long.”
Patience requires enough maturity for a person to be able to recognize that the universe doesn’t obey our dictates, and we’re the ones who need to adapt. Those who haven’t bothered to grow up can blame and moan and insist someone they don’t like could have done better, but waiting is a part of the experience of living. We might as well do it with grace, common sense, and compassion.