Joseph Bottum on the virtues of patience at FIRST THINGS:
Except it was. All right, I'll admit it: Even the conscious ironic comedy of browsing frowsy old magazines didn't help. These are the reading material the demons lay out in the waiting rooms of hell, and if I could have found a box of kitchen matches, I would have burned down the offices of the various doctors I've been forced to visit over the last three weeks.
Not to worry: There's nothing wrong with me except some aches and pains and lingering colds, all caused by general lack of "taking care of yourself," as one doctor kindly explained. In fact, she said, "You are in as bad a shape as a body can possibly be and not actually be very sick. There are these things called exercise, sleep, and regular meals. You ought to try them sometime."
Turns out that coffee and cigarettes are not completely reliable substitutes. Good to know, I suppose. But that physicians' tone of moral authority--oh, how it grates, and, oh, how it works. Even dentists have it, the voice that speaks from certain knowledge of right and wrong in your personal behavior: "Do you floss after every meal?" There isn't priest or pastor left in America who would dare assume that stern, judgmental tone.
Speaking as a someone who's spent far too much time having his teeth poked, prodded, drilled, and pulled in the last year, I can testify that the old bugaboo of "Catholic guilt" can't hold a candle to dental guilt.
"Dentist forgive me for I have sinned against my teeth."
"How long has it been since your last cleaning, my son?"
"Oh, I don't know, seven, eight months maybe?"
"According to our records it's been over a year. And you ignored our repeated phone calls to come in. What other sins do you have to confess?"
"Well, I was playing hockey without wearing a facemask and..."
"You were playing hockey without a mask? That wasn't very smart now, was it?"
"No, I guess it wasn't. It'll never happen again."
"It had better not. What about flossing? Do you floss every day?"
"Well, I try to..."
"Try? Trying isn't doing. Look at those bleeding gums. Do you want to get gum disease?"
"You need to start taking better care of your teeth. For your penance, you'll have to get three shots of Novocain, a root canal on #10, and a thorough cleaning with an extra sharp dental pick. Now go forward and sin against your teeth no more."
"Thank you dentist."
Besides, it comes at you just when you're worn down--by the sickness that brought you there in the first place, by having nothing to read except an age-yellowed copy of People, by the sheer, unendurable boredom of waiting. And waiting. And waiting.
I realized today, waiting to see yet another doctor for yet another test, that I have organized my life to eliminate waiting, insofar as anyone who is not wealthy can. It wasn't conscious, but I've always worked in fast spurts rather than steady flows, and when I start something or arrive somewhere, I want it to zip and zing and get done. And the body--that vile slosh and sway of meat around our bones--ah, yes, that's the thing that breaks us, in the end, to the yoke of mere enduring.
A man after my own heart. There are few things in life that I despise as much as waiting. Although we're told that you develop patience as you get older, I find that I have less and less tolerance for waiting as the years go on. Whether it's at the coffee shop on the way to work, the checkout line at Target, or waiting to get seated for dinner, I can't stand delays.
Sometimes I drive my wife crazy because I consider a half-hour wait at a crowded restaurant unacceptable. I'd rather leave and spend twenty minutes driving to another restaurant to wait fifteen minutes than spend thirty at the place we're already at. When we shop together, she's appalled at my willingness to forgo buying something (even it's a great deal) if there's more than three or four people in line at the checkout. I'd rather pay more to not have to wait in line.
For the medievals, patience was the virtue opposed to the vice of anger, while for moderns it seems rather to be the virtue by which boredom should be confronted. I hadn't realized the connection until recently, for the idea of boredom always suggested to me the dangers of ennui and acedia. Sitting in the doctor's office, like patience on a monument, however, I start to get it.
To borrow an oft-used paraphrase of Saint Augustine, "God, give me serenity and patience--but don't make me wait."