Writing From the Heart: Patience is a virtue

Slow down and listen to the space between words.


Patience is a virtue, a phrase believed to have originated from the poem “Piers Plowman,” written in 136O by English poet William Langland. Willie should only know the trouble I’ve had with that particular virtue.

One of the quips my son Dan repeated often to me that got a laugh but was said in all seriousness, was SLOW DOWN TURBO. Slow down, you’re rushing dinner. Slow down, you’re speeding in the car. Slow down, you’re speaking too fast.

My sister’s main complaint that she’s always had about our relationship was that I was too quick to get off the phone and too quick to leave after a visit and when we were kids, just plain too quick. What offended her was that instead of saying, well that’s about it or been really nice talking to ya’, or it was a lovely time together but I have to go now, I would just say okI’mleavingbye. It wasn’t just the way I said goodbye to her. That’s how I leave and say goodbye to everyone.

I tried to trace the origin of my speedy behavior and all I could really come up with was that in my family there was a value to being quick. You didn’t have to actually know any facts or have any answers but you had to be the first one in the room to respond. So while my sister stayed thoughtful l learned to be fast on the draw. It was as if, if you waited to think you’d lose the audience. There was no time for waiting.

So waiting was synonymous with slow motion, molasses, being a loser.

I remember in my early gardening days I planted asparagus and as I watched and waited for the precious fruit to emerge, I found out that it takes two years for the darn thing to flower. I was annoyed at the time, thinking I never would have planted something that I had to wait for it to bloom, something that didn’t pop up immediately.

I do know that being impatient has taken up precious creative time. I guess I’m a tapping-of-the-foot kind of impatient. I heard someone added up the hours you sit in traffic waiting for the light to change and it’s something like a full week of your life. Now that explains why I haven’t written the great American you know what. That week would have been the writing time I needed.

A few years ago I started working on cultivating patience. Meditation practice is key to success in slowing down and developing patience.

In Eckert Tolles’ meditation he says, listen to the space between the words, that that’s where the real impact often can be found. So watching your breath, counting inhales and exhales, listening to the space between words sounds easy, right?

Eckert should only know the trouble I’ve had with listening to the space between the words. Because as soon as I make space between the words, I also make the grocery list: Parmesan Reggiano, pink grapefruit, avocados if they’re not over … oops … back to the space between the words.

He says our prominent state is waiting for the next thing. He said he trained himself to use the time not being frustrated when someone kept him waiting, that he learned that being irritated is a choice. And waiting in presence can actually be most enjoyable. He tells the story of a friend who was supposed to meet him at an appointed time and the person was very late. When they finally arrived they apologized up and down saying, “I’m so sorry I kept you waiting,” and Eckert said, don’t worry. I wasn’t waiting, I was in joy-ing myself.

Turning frustration into joy, that’s the trick. Obviously I need more hours on the pillow.

An interesting thing happened recently right before my sister died. I asked her if we could agree on a symbol, something that I could look for, something that would tell me she was there. She said no. And I said but how will I know when you’re there. And she said you’ll know.

Last week I received a gorgeous arrangement of flowers from friends. I’ve been doing everything to keep the flowers from wilting and mostly they have stayed perky. But one, a white rose, dried up and flopped over and I pulled it from the vase. I noticed out of the whole bouquet, only this one had a label hanging off it. As I was about to throw it in the trash, I took off the label and looked. The name of the rose was Patience.

Between my son Dan and Eckert Tolle and my precious sister who just left me, I think you could safely say the message has been sent.




  1. Boy Nancy we can really chew on that one for a while. I love how relatable your story is. I rush too much and while I tell mutated I am a patient person sometimes I think I may be kidding myself. Thank you!

  2. Your writing always bring a smile to my face… not only for the humor, but also for the lesson. Thank you Nancy.
    P.S. I am sorry to hear of your sister’s passing.

  3. I can relate very well to this message — go mode is often easiest for me. Once when I was a new team leader I included impatience as a quality I wanted our team to be known for e.g. daylight is burning, time to get good stuff done. Many had a hard time appreciating/accepting impatience as a positive quality. Much in life is rewarded and revealed with patience and sometimes impatience can be good also.

  4. Thank you Nancy. I began your essay in my usual fashion – speed-reading through it, but caught myself and started over. Worth every moment.

  5. Greetings from the Land of Enchantment where “signs” are THE GPS way to navigate life. I am writing this while sitting at a red light… jokin! Although I am about to read the book “Green Lights”. Thank you Nancy for your words and being a Light that shines bright.

  6. When my son and I lived in Manhattan, I sometimes caught that street energy and – in contrast to the easy going stroll favored in our hometown of Oxford, MS – found myself walking a mile a minute. My son would gently put his hand on my arm and say gently, “Slow down, Mom.” And then there was the time he said I was exhibiting “road rage on foot”.

  7. Ah Nancy,

    This being human thing knows no boundaries. I love the rose named Patience! And Tolle’s “waiting for the next thing” resonates deeply. Especially during this time of the pandemic.

    I find myself sleeping in late these days, I mean to 11am after reading myself to sleep at 1 or 2am. (The book of the moment is “Where the Crawdads Sing”). Having led a linear life not unlike your description of your own earlier life, I have found that nothing is calling me to get up unless it is one of those damned doctor appointments that bloom when one passes the 80 mark. I don’t know if that is patience. What I do know is that the ever slower time of awakening is also a fertile garden for my next newspaper column. Tolle is onto something…the space between the words is where all sorts of thoughts and ideas (satisfying as well as angst-provoking) come up from the basement of my memory vault.

    In a long ZOOM conversation with my old friend Jack the other day, (quarantined in California from his long time home on Nantucket), he asked me, suggested that I think about refocusing my editorials on all the good energy that can be found everywhere in this country.

    I’m finding it difficult to find my way to that perspective. What did come to me this morning while still in bed was the idea of looking back. I’ve been looking back into my own life in my legacy writing ZOOM group. So it occurred to me that I could expand my look back in time to the world in which I live, in the world beyond me. That somehow feels engaging. We are all driven by some variable sense of hope or doom relative to what’s to come. So I’m looking to connect the dots, the name of my column for the past 8 years in our local paper that has just folded like so many other small newspapers.

    Well, I digress. But that’s what YOUR writing prompts in me. Thinking ad feeling the spaces in between the words I say and the words I write.

    Sending you my wishes for a pleasing and provocative new year! Hugs from Western Massachusetts.


  8. You left me holding on with all the thoughts and actions.Oh I was right there.Thank you Eckhart, Thank you
    White Rose,Thank you Patience and Thank You Nancy.

    One Love,

  9. I put off opening your email, even reading the heading, because I didn’t have the patience! This pandemic has added pounds and removed patience.

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