Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Never enough time--or patience

When my aged neighbor rings the doorbell, as she routinely does, late in the afternoon when I am napping or in the middle of a project, I know that she will not say much of anything when I answer the door. Growing weary of these interruptions, I began putting a discreet sign on the door: Do Not Disturb.

Since that has had no effect, I recently moved it so it hangs right over the doorbell, so that she could not help but see it. Yesterday, she rang anyway, ignoring all warnings, and I became angry when she offered, as always, no apology. In the past six months of these interruptions, I have been annoyed and whenever possible let my ever-patient wife handle the neighbor, who is more than "out of it," to put it mildly. She is also lonely and wants some human interaction. So I should be sympathetic and smile. Instead, I fume.

I try to put this minor challenge to my sanity in the context of patience, and I wonder if I am growing less and less patient; I also wonder how I can cultivate more patience. Is asking for more patience akin to asking for more time?

Since the two are related, I guess the answer is affirmative: I fear being robbed of my privacy and my time. Maybe I fear my own future dementia, when I will be the one going around the neighborhood ringing doorbells and never apologizing for disturbing the residents.

This neighbor, 85, has something in common with the boy I tutor: they both test my patience.
The boy, who is 15, has ADHD and seldom listens to me and wastes valuable time as a result of my need to repeat. He wants to rush through every assignment when I want him to slow down. He probably will never be a patient person.

All this leads to my wish for myself in this new year: to slow down, be patient, and repeat the words of St. Francis de Sales that are posted on my study wall: "Never be in a hurry. Do everything quietly and in a calm manner. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsover, even if your whole world seems upset."

This should be easy for me, a retired professor who is home most days writing or reading. But old A-type patterns persist, and my brain continues to burst with ideas and reminders of unfinished tasks. It's no wonder I have become a student of silence, a member of the Friends of Silence.

Or that I appreciate articles like that of Pico Iyer in the Sunday NYTimes, "The Joy of Quiet," in which he describes his need to escape the rush of daily life. For most of us, it's a life in which we keep finding more ways to connect and thus produce more stress. At the same time, he says, we keep finding new (or old) ways to disconnect. Often this involves a retreat to a place where the absence of TVs and internet connections and phones is a blessed relief.

He quotes Nicholas Carr: the average American spends eight and a half hours a day in front of a screen (TV or computer), and the number of text messages maddingly increases daily. So for more than 20 years, Iyer has gone to a Benedictine monastery several times a year, not to pray but to be: to lose himself in stillness, to enjoy nature unfettered by noise, to find something akin to happiness.

What he wants is the happiness that doesn't depend on what happens. This is the idea of joy defined by the monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, a fine spiritual writer. As for me, instead of writing about all this, I should be practicing it daily. I don't need to travel to a monastery: I can create a monastic setting of contemplative life in my home, with my patient, literary wife and my ever-silent cat.

I vow to do more of this, become less busy, and maybe as a result less annoyed when my aged neighbor pushes my buttons.

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