My father had the patience of a saint. He was rarely in a hurry, remained calm in a crisis, and could escape into his own world of gardening, reading or tinkering with trains. “Where’s Dad,” someone would ask, only to find him out in the yard, upstairs in his train room, or sitting in the den reading a book, having slipped away, cat-like, into his realm of solitude. I suppose he’d developed a critical survival skill honed while sharing a house with five unruly kids, one full bath and one TV. While I share many traits with my Dad, I did not inherit this particular virtue. “Mary,” he’d often say, “Have a little patience, for cryin’ out loud.”
Perhaps I suffer from “eldest daughter” syndrome. (At least it’s a good excuse.) Often the oldest girl is raised to act as a second mother to her siblings; this can be a blessing and a curse. While on the one hand I had more influence and inclusion in my parents’ decisions and discussions, on the other I was burdened with adult responsibilities and worries way too early. Sometimes I felt like I was parenting four children. Consequently, I am very responsible, conscientious and “take-charge”. I’m also overly self-critical and way too serious (even I can’t stand it!). It’s not surprising that I found a 20+ year career in human resources management, where influence and control is foundational. While I never subscribed to the “Catbert” approach to HR, when I think about going back I feel a hairball forming in my throat.
As I continue on my quest to empty my basement of model trains, I have a lot of time to think with few distractions. Carefully packing locomotives for shipment can be quite meditative; there is no rushing, no panic. My life is so much slower, yet I struggle with the pace. Shouldn’t I being doing something? Shouldn’t I be planning for my future? Here’s a sample of my mind’s running commentary: “Wow, there’s so much left to sell, how long is this going to take…what the hell am I going to do when all of this is gone… should I throw in a load of laundry while I’m packing…I really ought to re-grout that shower upstairs…but wait, this locomotive ran yesterday, how come it’s not running now…I can’t go back to HR (hack, hack), so what am I going to do…should I go back to school… I’m too old to go back to school.”
My inner life has always been in perpetual motion; stillness and peace—patience—remains elusive. But herein lies a bigger lesson, hidden in the trains my Dad left behind: Nothing can happen faster than it does. I am forced, for the first time in my life, to be with myself entirely without distraction; it’s foreign, uncomfortable and even scary. I think my father accepted himself as-is. Of course, he had regrets while looking back at his life, but for the most part he seemed to live in the moment. That, I believe, is the gift he’s left behind, wrapped in a challenge. “Have a little patience Mary…”