I intend to go grocery, but my day is not being especially cooperative in yielding me the freedom to do so. Of course I have no one to blame but myself for this conundrum: I have packed it end to end with tasks, chores, emails, and phone conversations and I’ve left myself little (if any) wiggle room.
So the grocery trip keeps getting pushed off even though I know the cupboards are practically bare and the children will be arriving home at 3:00, tired, hungry ,and wanting a snack while they did their homework. Yes, they have a key. And yes, they are old enough to let themselves in – and they know to lock the front door and call me as soon as they do. But all the same, I like to be home when they arrive. I deeply relish that first burst of “Mom, I’m home!” energy they bring into the house. It’s like fresh air streaming into my heart. I love to hear the stories of their days spilling out like a wide open faucet of wonder. So back home by 3:00 it is. At least that’s my goal.
It is already 2:30 as I whoosh through the automatic doors of the grocery store. All the same, I am feeling very confident that I can pull this off. I have the whole thing timed in my head: 20 minutes to shop. 5 minutes to check out. 5 minutes to get back home and meet the bus.
As a mother of four, I am a pro at this. I move with precision and agility through the aisles. As many times as I have done this shopping trip, I could probably walk these grocery aisles blindfolded: Here are the Honeycrisp Apples that the kids love for both their outlandish size and perfect tartness. And here’s the wheat bread that is just hearty enough for me to approve of and just squishy enough for them to actually enjoy eating. Here are the juice boxes with added calcium. And here is the cereal with the dehydrated strawberries – and it’s on sale! Score!
It’s 2:50 and I head for the checkout. I scan the checkout aisles to see which one will best cooperate with my 5 minute checkout mission. At checkout aisle #3, I see an elderly woman whose cart has just a few staples at the bottom. She is almost done checking out.
Perfect, I think. I could not have timed this better.
But just as the checkout clerk announces the woman’s grand total, the lady frowns and shakes her head. She asks to see the receipt. The clerk complies and the woman reaches into her purse, takes out her glasses, and begins to scan it for some obvious error. I too begin scanning: in adjacent checkout aisles, my shopping compatriots are breezing through. People who got in line after me are already having their groceries scanned. The woman hands the receipt back to the clerk and points to the error. She takes out her grocery circular and points to the item that was supposed to be on sale that was rung up at regular price. The clerk picks up the handset and announces, “I need a price check on Aisle 3.”
I look at my watch. It’s 2:53. I’m not going to make it. I feel like I want to jump out of my skin. The nerve of this woman, I think, What is she saving? About 25 cents? I feel like going into my purse, pulling out a quarter and handing it to her just to get her to move along.
I feel my heart pounding. My fingers are drumming on the handle of my cart as if the furious beat they are tapping out might somehow speed up the scene in front of me to the pace at which I personally need it to move.
I am caught. Impatience has me by the scruff of the neck and is shaking me with all its might. “Who does she think she is?” impatience hisses at me, “Doesn’t she get that you are in a hurry? Why doesn’t she just move aside and let you through?! Can’t she see how busy you are? You have four children and a job! No one is busier than you. No one is in a bigger hurry. And that all goes to show that YOU, my friend, are the most important person here!”
Let me be clear: Impatience may act like I’m the person who matters most in the world, but it treats me quite to opposite: roughly and with complete disregard for my mental and physical well being. It twists my mind in all directions and raises my blood pressure. What kind of friend is that, I ask you? Sure it tries to convince me that I am the most important person — the center of the known universe, in fact. But at its core, impatience lacks in compassion. It has no compassion for others, treating them like they simply don’t matter — like they don’t have real lives or real stories. And no compassion for me, trying to throttle me into a false sense of self-importance and a vague contempt for my fellow human beings. Impatience is working me over; trying to form me in its own image. And I know for a fact that this is not the person I want to be.
Reflecting, I can see that the message of Impatience is not only damaging, it is based in delusion:
Impatience gives us the sense that something is standing squarely on our path to happiness, blocking our way. Impatience is the insistent voice that whispers that if we can just push past this obstacle, make our way through it or around it, something better, brighter, more vibrant, or more real stands on the others side.
In fits of impatience, our bodies begin to vibrate with the energy that would push us forward past the moment we are in. Our fingers begin to move nervously, trying hopeless to grasp at the moment so we can toss it aside. Our feet itch with the desire to run full force past the moment. And our impatient minds, rife with a sense of entitlement to the moment that lies just beyond the moment we are in, silently curse the moment, damn it to hell, and wish it gone once and for all so we can just move on.
But there is no moving on from the moment. There is only this moment we have. And if we give in to the megalomaniacal whisperings of impatience – the whispers that insist we are entitled to a different moment than the moment we are in – we can never know the depth and the possibility that this moment can offer us. If we push past it, if we run past it, if we toss it aside – any possibility of compassion, love, wisdom, or learning will be overlooked. Anything tender or human will be lost.
And so I stand in line in the grocery store and make a point of breathing deeply as the manager comes over, smiling and doing his best to assist the woman in front of me. I allow my shoulders to relax. I allow my eyes and my heart to soften. And in the wake of that softening, I see something sacred emerge in this moment. I see in this woman as my grandmother, scraping to save money to feed her family in the midst of the Great Depression. I see her as my mother, pinching pennies to put me through college. And I see her as myself, trying to keep a home and a budget in balance, while attempting to nourish the people in it. This woman deserves my patience and my compassion — not my ire. She deserves my most loving patient self, not my most aggressively impatient self. And so I reach within and give her the gift of patience with an open heart. And I smile, because I honestly feel better.
The woman, suddenly sensing my presence, turns to me and nervously mouths, “I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay,” I tell her, “I’m in not in a hurry.”
Because it really is okay.
And I’m really not in a hurry. At least not anymore.
Because once we see a moment as sacred, what need is there to rush past it?