These days it seems we never have patience for anything. Now it seems we have less and less patience to wait when in the past, that same wait was tolerable. Case in point…
I remember when I first saw a “web page”. It was in 1995 and I had just graduated art school. This guy I knew invited me over to show me something “amazing”. He typed in the web address he wanted to visit and then…well we went to lunch. No joke. We had lunch for about 30-40 minutes and then we came back. The page was still loading.
So yea, I was like “this is really ‘amazing'” as I rolled my eyes. Who had time to wait for a web page to load? But when it did, despite the wait, it was amazing enough for me to decide to start designing web pages. Now computers and our internet connections have gotten faster. Mobile devices allow us to access the internet from anywhere, so we don’t even have to be home anymore, but still we complain for any second extra we have to wait. Our lack of patience has been incrementally worsening as technology has sped up.
Recently our family had an experience that taught us all the value of patience.
Meet Peter and Rosa II, two gerbils who have come to call our house home. Rosa I is another story — she was my daughter’s first gerbil, and dearly loved, but my daughter took her on a bike ride, in her basket, against the advice of many, and it appears that during a pause in the ride she escaped…much searching later I purchased Rosa II and Peter, for my inconsolable daughter, with the strict guidance that no bike rides would occur with them.
One of the pleasures of being a pet gerbil is running around the house in a ball, yes a ball. If you have had a pet gerbil or hamster then you know what I am referring to. For everyone else, it is a plastic ball you can place the gerbil in and he can run in it, rolling the ball around the house. It gives the gerbil a feeling of being free and independent.
It takes a little coordination to be sure but most gerbils catch on in less than a minute — just run in one direction and the ball rolls. Simple. Not for Peter, however. We placed him in the ball and he just sat there, imprisoned in a spherical cell.
Poor Peter. For weeks we kept putting him in the ball in the hope that finally he would get it and for weeks he just sat there like he was undergoing some form of punishment. Every once in a while he would begin to rock the ball and we would get excited, but then he’d just stop. Sometimes he would even roll a little bit only to change direction, thereby stopping the ball. All the while, Rosa, who picked up the ball technique immediately, would be rolling furiously in her ball, sometimes careening right into Peter, who just sat there, unfazed.
Our whole family was distraught at Peter’s seeming learning disability so we kept trying. We gave him words, cheers even, of encouragement. We tried rocking the ball for him to show him how. We even placed him in the ball with the top off inside a big box to let him roll himself out. All in the hopes that he would catch on. But nothing worked. Peter was not ready. We had to be patient.
Then one day, with no warning, he did it. Slowly at first then he got better exponentially until now he’s rolling as fast as Rosa.
It occurred to me, as this drama unfolded in our home, one that engaged us so much, that it is not so easy to release expectations of how quickly someone should learn something or how fast something should happen. It can be more of a challenge to simply relax and let things take their natural course. People (or animals), unlike technology, do not advance in a linear path. Our expectations of speed and the impatience it brings, as it relates to life, can actually be harmful because our expectations are arbitrary.
Does the water in a river feel rushed to arrive downstream? Does the earth feel stressed to orbit? Things just happen they way they do. There is no arbitrary pressure in nature, when pressure exists it has a specific purpose like hunger to provide the incentive to seek food or cold to seek warmth. So while we worried about Peter sitting in that ball, not moving, he was fine. He was not rushed nor worried; he was just not ready.
We could all learn a little from the ways of nature — to let go of expectations, benchmarks and timetable. To instead gently flow downstream.
Our experience with Peter’s struggle to learn to use the ball taught me to be patience with others. Everyone does things at their own pace but if they are meant to get there, they will.