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Patience is a Choice

I just had to share my experience from today. It was a huge lesson in choosing happiness and joy and patience instead of frustration, anger, and irritation.

I arrived at the post office this morning about 10 minutes before it opened, as I had finished my other errands earlier than expected. I was 4th in line and it was a rather jovial bunch, as we chatted about the small vestibule we were waiting in, the ever-increasing price of postage, and the impending snow coming later in the week, just in time for Mother’s Day. (I know, I live in a crazy place.)

When the door finally opened at a few minutes after 9, there was but one lowly postal worker behind the counter, and she started taking people one at at time…and that’s when the trouble started. This worker, bless her soul, was as slow as, as they say, molasses in January (or for me, here in Colorado, apparently molasses in mid-May). She was just one of those people who kind of moves in slow motion, no matter what she’s doing. Five minutes go by, ten minutes go by, and then the person in front of me, the #3 person in line, goes up, and she’s mailing a package to Poland.

So not only does Bernadette behind the counter have to deal with the overseas customs form, she also has to type in the recipient’s name and address, which are very unfamiliar to her, and they have a lot of consonants. She kept typing them into the computer incorrectly and the woman mailing the package kept correcting her, and then they began having a lengthy conversation about what was inside the package (“Oh, it’s a dress? What kind of dress? For a girl or a woman? And a sweater too? What kind of sweater is it?” At this point the customer asked Bernadette, “How come there is only one of you working today? There is quite a long line.”

By this time there was indeed a very long line of customers waiting. There were about 10 people behind me, most of whom were getting very fed up with the lack of effective customer service exhibited here.

There was sighing, there were repeated checks of wrist watches, there was significant shifting of weight from one foot to the other. These were accompanied by major eye rolls, more audible sighing, and knowing glances and head shakes exchanged with one another as if to say, “Can you believe the utter incompetence that we have to deal with?”

About the time that the consonants were being spelled out for the third time I felt myself begin to get what turned out to be one of the most intense hot flashes I have ever had. I felt the burning start in my neck and come up to my face, and pretty soon the sweat started pouring down my face. I took off my outer jacket, then my sweatshirt, then began fanning myself with one of my smaller packages. At that point the whole situation just seemed so absurd to me and I started giggling to myself. My giggling turned into laughing, and considering my entire face was probably beet red I’m certain that my fellow exasperated-in-line people thought I was having some kind of episode.

Anyway, eventually someone else finally came out to the counter to help (the lovely Polish woman was still at the counter, now describing the gift of the shoes) and I went up, slightly cooler by now, but still amused by the whole turn of events that had transpired since I’d arrived.

Let me rephrase that, I made the choice to be amused by the whole turn of events that had transpired since I’d arrived.

I could have gotten upset and angry and frustrated at how incredibly slowly the line was moving and how truly “trying-hard-but-just-it-just-wasn’t-her-day” inept poor Bernadette was. But I made the conscious choice to remind myself that i was not particularly in a hurry, that I would be taken eventually, that standing in a crowded post office fanning myself wildly was still a better place to be in than a lot of other places, and nothing seriously was going wrong. I was just a little inconvenienced, as were all of the people behind me who were choosing ire over joy.

I’m not saying I’m so great here, I’m just pointing out that in almost every difficult situation, if we can’t control what’s happening, we can at least control our attitude while we’re going through it.

When it comes to patience, I believe that for those of us for whom it does not come naturally, it is a skill that can be practiced and learned. It’s about calming down, keeping your mind in the present, realizing and acknowledging the usually non-severity of the situation, and most importantly, doing our best to see the humor in it. Getting angry and frustrated certainly doesn’t make a line move any faster or a traffic jam ease up any quicker. It just makes us that much more grumpy, and who wants that in their life?

So practice patience when you can and when it’s necessary. In the meantime, find a different post office.

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