Learning Patience, Given Time

The world, I've decided, is divided into two groups: those of us who arrive on time, and the people who keep us waiting.

The first group contains a subset: The people who are early. (Let's face it, if you're going to be on time, why not get there five minutes ahead of schedule?)

The people not in this first group are already scratching their heads and saying, "Huh?" They're thinking, "Never mind. I'll read this later." That's just fine; you all find something else to do. This essay is really for the early birds. It'll give you something to read while you're waiting.

What is it about waiting that is so - how shall I put this, annoying? Is it the waste of time, the edginess it engenders? Or is it just the fact that the people you are waiting for has, unintentionally or not, given you the impression that they think you have nothing better to do?

Can you tell from this that I really hate to be kept waiting? Yes, I'm sure you can.

But I digress. This is meant to be a helpful essay. It is not meant to change on-timers into late-arrivers (heaven forfend!). And I'm not so unrealistic as to believe one essay could transform that other group into responsible, punctual citizens.

On the other hand, it's worth a shot.

So Part 1 will be an impassioned plea for promptness. Part 2, the realistic part, will offer things to do while you're waiting for that friend or family member who's never on time.

Let me begin with a confession. I used to be a tardy person, always running behind the clock. I told myself it was one of my more endearing qualities. It wasn't. It led to people thinking of me as flighty at best, irresponsible at worst.

And then I got this flash of insight that said, "If you're early, people will think you like them." And since, as a rule, I do, I found it easy to change my non-post-haste ways. Once I made the decision to get there on time no matter what, it became easier until finally it was second nature.

Here's the secret. Figure out when you want to arrive, then count backward from there. Include travel time, pull-yourself-together time and, most important, unforeseeable-events time. Like the mother ship from Mars landing in the center lane and you get caught behind the CNN cameras.

Then add an extra five minutes and - presto! - we have an early bird.

For those of you who already know how to get where you're going on time or better, a few suggestions for how to make the best use of those extra minutes.

First of all, don't think it's your mistake, that you've got the wrong date, place, time, planet. Relax. You don't. Don't waste time getting angry, either; it'll ruin your looks and possibly your day. Ditto for feeling self-righteous or superior. Next thing you know, you'll remember, too late, that you forgot to put money in the parking meter, and there you'll be, owing another $10 to the local constabulary.

We all have our little shortcomings. So don't rub it in. They're late, you're not.

Look at this as a gift of time. Time to, say, make out your Christmas-card list, address the cards, mail the cards. So what if it's July? It's never too soon for holiday cheer. Or come prepared, especially if you're meeting a repeat offender. Bring all that mending you never have time to do. A large tote bag or a smart leather briefcase will carry a passel of undarned socks.

And those little sewing kits they sell at hardware stores are so cute. Now you have an excuse to buy one. Or you can carry a notebook and pen and write a curmudgeonly essay on how you hate to be kept waiting.


ACTUALLY, I find that being made to wait bothers me a lot less now that I'm eight years into my new career. This job requires a lot of creative uses of waiting time. Waiting in my car for drop-offs and pickups. (A good time to make grocery lists.) Waiting for the piano/karate/ballet/swimming lesson to be over. (A good time to catch up on ironing, but it's so hard to find a convenient wall socket when you're not at home.)

Then there's my personal favorite: waiting for someone - anyone - to pick up his or her room, clear the table, get in the car. (A good time to count to 10, slowly.)

Someday our kids will be as punctual, I'm sure, as their father and I are. (He and I met because we were 60 minutes early for an hourly air shuttle.) But that would mean that they'd be all grown up.

And there are some things for which I really don't mind waiting.

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