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Photo of golden crowned kinglet

Photo of golden crowned kinglet

Stand Up for Patience

This past year I’ve learned that we Americans are not very good at patience.

I felt ambivalent about the World Series this year. With one team sullied by a recent cheating scandal, and with the other team’s fans mimicking a tomahawk chop that misrepresents Native American culture, I really didn’t want to see either team win. I watched Game 4 anyway because it was raining, and I’d built a cozy fire in the wood stove, and I was weary from a road trip to Southern California to visit my mom, who has recently moved into assisted living. 

But I wasn’t prepared for what happened at the conclusion of the fifth inning. The players, umpires, coaches and fans stood up, and were holding placards on which they’d written the names of friends and family members who have been affected by cancer. One of the first cards shown on camera merely said, “Mom.” And then another, and another with the same three letters.  

They were standing up to cancer. Sitting there on the couch, I wept. 

My mom has cancer, a rare spindle-cell sarcoma. So far it has cost her a leg and has spread to her lungs. I am a cancer survivor myself, having spent the first two years of my retirement from SCU in active therapy for prostate cancer. 

This blog isn’t about cancer; it’s about patience. It’s about what I blogged a year ago here in Illuminate in that bleak period before vaccines were available, when I wrote, “A pandemic is best fought with patience, so focus on living in the present without being in a rush to get back to normal, not even for the holidays.”

Cancer patients are often caught between a brutal past and an uncertain future. The only way not to be dragged down by this vortex of past pain and future fear is to focus resolutely on the present. One comes to realize that after an aggressive cancer has been diagnosed, there will never be a complete return to normal. But there is always today, and today can be wonderful if the focus remains on the present.

And now the holidays are upon us again. This past year I’ve learned that we Americans are not very good at patience. I own this: the frustration of having to wait weeks for a vaccination appointment even though I belonged to the first group approved to receive the jab in my state. The difficulty of being patient with friends and family members who were hesitant about getting vaccinated themselves. The agony of losing a neighbor to cancer even though she was supposed to have more time. 

I’ve found it helpful this past year to focus on the seasons. Although we couldn’t celebrate the 2020 winter holidays with family, it still snowed here in the San Juan Islands. I spent two full days watching the snow accumulate in the forest outside our cabin, and it was therapeutic to do so. When winter turned to spring we tracked the various migrant birds coming into our forest: the purple finches arriving prior to the goldfinch, the goldfinch showing up before the orange-crowned warblers, the olive-sided flycatchers being the last ones to make an appearance. We spent summer on the water, sailing, kayaking and crabbing. Autumn has been a season of paying attention while trying to finish my next book. I’m seeing colors that must have been there a year ago but that I don’t remember noticing.

I keep hearing people talking about “the new normal,” as if normality is something to be feared. Along similar lines, colleagues are warning that once this pandemic turns into endemic, education will never again be the same. But why should we want to return to the past? When the world changes people must adapt, and when people adapt education must evolve to better suit their needs. Let’s stop worrying about the new normal, and instead seek that which is healthy, both for ourselves and our environment.

Let’s also continue to be wary. People act as if the Delta variant is the last one we’ll ever have to worry about. This is scientifically unlikely, regardless of whether your patience is exhausted. Speaking as someone who has had more than 100 medical appointments over the course of the past several years, I am a big fan of modern medicine, but let’s meet our health care workers halfway. If you’re going to ride an elevator, I don’t care how many times you’ve been vaccinated, please wear a mask. 

There aren’t many elevators here in Skagit County, Washington, and after a decade living on the 11th floor of Swig Hall, where I was the Residential Learning Community faculty director, I really don’t miss them. I was swept back into that elevated world a couple weeks ago while attending the wedding of two SCU alumni. The groom was a former student who had lived in Swig for all four years of his SCU studies. There should be a medal for that! The bride has completed her studies as a medical doctor and is halfway through her residency as an oncologist. Double medals for her, especially for having to train during a pandemic.

It was the first wedding I’ve attended since before the pandemic, and I’d completely forgotten how to tie a bow tie in the interval. Talk about a lesson in patience! 

Fortunately, there was a clip-on tie in the pocket of my tux, a left-over from a pre-pandemic wedding, and the only one who knew I’d cheated was the groom. 

While participating in a wedding felt refreshingly normal, the experience convinced me that we shouldn’t be rushing headlong toward normalcy. We all provided vaccination certificates ahead of time at the request of the couple, and we wore masks during the ceremony. It was good to celebrate love, but all the better to do so as safely as possible.

I stand by what I wrote a year ago, that a pandemic is best fought with patience. May your holidays be infused with a focus on the present moment, and may the holiday rush become a thing of the past. 


Photo of golden crowned kinglet/Courtesy John S. Farnsworth.

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