My husband is in printing. When we met 13 years ago he was running a press at night but now he’s in charge of a department at a local family owned print shop.
Any job that a client wants mailed goes through his department. He corresponds with the Post Office at regular intervals, at least weekly but often more. The intersection between printing work for clients and then making sure that work gets mailed out on time can be sticky. Like the time a few years ago when it was a Friday and I had just picked him up from work and he got a call that a 17,000 piece mailing job that had to post that day had just been rejected because the letters were facing the wrong way in the letter trays.
I helped turn some around once we intersected the backwards mail. Somehow the job still got out on time.
Patience comes into English from the Old French pacience, “patience, sufferance, permission” which is from a Latin adjective patientem which meant, “bearing, supporting; suffering, enduring, permitting; tolerant,” but also, “firm, unyielding, hard.” In Latin this adjective described persons as well as navigable rivers.
Of course all of that comes from Douglas, who is utterly brilliant and tremendously entertaining. I like to look up words in Etymonline when I’m in lines, and lately I’ve been in line the most at the Post Office.
I looked up the etymology for “patience” right after I finished filling out a Customs form on the lil waiting table they have, the same table a dude was aggressively drumming his fingers on only slightly down from me. Thump-thump-thump / thump-thump-thump / thump-thump-thump / *sigh, *looks around, *sigh / thump-thump-thump / thump-thump-thump / thump-thump-thump.
DUDE I thought. Chillllll with the finger drumming. You walked in maybe two minutes ago anyway. These are the same people who made my husband and I literally turn around 17,000 pieces of mail that was still going to need to be processed by hand anyway just because they could and were feeling salty.
And my dude I hope you’ve packed snacks cause there’s two people in front of me and I’m sending some Truer Words to Dresden, Germany. It’s going to be a second. Instead of asking everyone around you to tolerate you, why don’t you see your line experience as a way to practice tolerating us?
Until I looked closely at the etymology I always had the sense that the word “patience” denoted the kind of happy waiting that could be described as soft, feminine, agreeable. Over the years when I’ve answered the inevitable, “what do you do for work?” with, “I teach kids who have learning differences,” I’ve often gotten the response, “wow that must take so much patience.”
It depends on what you mean by patience, but yes. It does. It’s a lot more about cultivating the kind of enduring firmness that will allow you to navigate a river even if it’s up to your neck and full of storm water than simply remaining agreeable when things take the time they take. Patience in my work is about actively bearing the weight of time on your shoulders, consistently supporting your kids with the long game in mind while also balancing their constant immediate needs. It requires unyielding endurance.
Patience demands strength.