My grandpa has no patience for impatience. He’s usually a pretty excitable person, but he positively boils over when it comes to the subject of how my mother and I need to control our tempers.
“I have never raised my voice in my LIFE!” he declares, his voice gradually rising to a shout with each word. As he’s speaking, he cracks his cane against the floor and stamps his foot. In fact, I’ve hardly ever heard him speak without raising his voice. But in his eyes, he has a perfectly patient and calm personality.
To tell the truth, I’ve never been much of a patient person either. I’m hardly even able to pop a Lifesaver into my mouth without immediately sinking my teeth into it like a stick of gum. And although he suffers from the same problem I do, my grandfather is completely right. Being impatient and losing my temper has only made me, and the people around me, miserable.
There’s an old anecdote about patience, regarding Hillel and one particularly pesky student. This student agrees to a bet to put Hillel’s renowned composure to the test. He shows up to his house and begins firing off round after round of useless questions. He leaves, only to return with a new batch of dumbfounding queries. Hillel calmly answers each one, until the student erupts and blames Hillel for making him lose the bet. Hillel responds, as tranquil as ever, that it’s better that the student lose his money than Hillel lose his temper.
Recently, I’ve been teaching English at a Jewish primary school in Buenos Aires. After two months on the job, it’s pretty clear that I’m no Hillel. I always imagined that while I might not have patience for people in general, I’d scrounge up some sort of tolerance for a group of kids who are just trying to learn. But to my utter dismay, it’s been harder than I imagined.
The other day in fifth grade, 9-year-old Dara strolled up to me with a question. ¨Que significa ‘size’?” she inquired, pointing to the word in her workbook.
“Tamaño,” I translated. She nodded and walked off.
A few moments later, she appeared at my side again. “Size?” she asked, her brow furrowed in consternation. “Que significa?”
“Tamaño,” I repeated, a little baffled that she was asking again, and went back to helping another student.
Several minutes went by. I felt a tap at my shoulder. It was Dara. She was pointing at a word in her workbook, completely lost on its meaning. The word was “size.”
``Tamaño,” I replied, unblinking, resisting the urge to flip a table. Tamaño. Tamaño. TAMAÑO! Why couldn’t she understand?!
Of course, my skewed, heavily accented version of the word “tamaño” probably meant as little to Dara as the word “size” itself. But I couldn’t help it. My impatience, which is usually simmering beneath the surface, was dangerously close to bubbling over.
In truth, I know that my temper is always much more my fault than whatever is bothering me. After all, why am I getting worked up about someone walking slowly on the street in front of me? Maybe they sprained their foot earlier this week and every step is a strained and concerted effort. Why do I get irritated when my mom drives over the curb? I do that sometimes, too. As for Dara, she wasn’t even trying to irritate me. She was just asking a question.
My mom and I almost always get annoyed when my grandpa accuses us of being impatient. The fact is, patience is something all three of us need to work on. Maybe next time Dara asks me for the definition of “size,” I’ll just calmly respond instead of developing an eye twitch. If nothing else, my grandpa will most certainly be proud.