Patience & Death

Rich_Man_Poor_Man_Book_II_cast_1977Our 12 second attention span has been reduced to the smaller number of 8 says news account.  A 90 year old friend tells me that he has a year to live but wishes it would be sooner.

Ahhh, patience: gift or grief?  We can blame technology for its quickness at every step.  TV ads have been eliminated thanks to the “fast forward” button.  I believe our impatience began when we destroyed darkness and kept our caffeinated minds awake far too long.  If you think that “Yahoo” is a sound a cowboy makes after lassoing a calf or “Google” is a sound a happy baby makes – you may be better off than the rest of us.

I remember the “mini series” “Rich Man, Poor Man,” with evolving characters for seven weeks, that’s right; seven weeks.  It was a risk for ABC but they pulled it off.  I also remember driving home fast before the next episode aired (no VCR’s, DVD’s or reruns then).  It launched Nick Nolte into fame and the same patience was needed for ABC’s “Roots” even if I already knew that ending.  (We loved advertisements during those years.  It gave us time for those bathroom visits, “Hurry up, the show’s coming back on!”)

Your doctor tells you “one year” or their usual timetable of six months, a safe bet.  If the person gets a full year then the doctor looks good; almost.

Patience is a developed and blessed gift that transcends technology.  How many authors have predicted advances that we witness today but that does not mean we ever stop being us.  I could recommend to my friend a “happy book” talking about the “joys of heaven” but my own nausea couldn’t stand it.  Death is not a happy place but it is a time we will all face.

I would hope that my doctor would say if I had a terminal condition that “everything seems okay with you today” and I could take that home with me smiling because he used the words “seems” and “today” in one sentence.  Driving home I can put the two words together and come up with “one year” or “six months.”  While in the hospital you’ve even been named after a virtue!  You’ll never hear a nurse say, “You’re a patient, so please me patient.”

Patience is not derived from the outcome (death, hence impatience) but in the time frame of right now.  Your friendly, recorded credit card company announces “shortly” someone will care about you or (my favorite word) “in a moment” while weird music repeats itself.  (I think they want to forget why you called.)

Patience doesn’t begin with the end leaving you to live whatever present you have.  Patience is living within the present with all the gusto that the old Schlitz Beer ads promised.  “Gusto” doesn’t mean bungee jumping, it means honoring your spirituality, cherishing your family and friends and finishing as much of your personal homework, as your mother would say, “before bedtime.”

I deliberately look for informative material when waiting to see a doctor.  I read most of a “Time” magazine during one wait.  “Patience” is not what’s about to happen but what you do with these “shortly’s” and these “moments.”

My dad and his secretary were the only employees of a small credit union.  While at lunch his sign on the door read, “Back in a moment.”  If you read it at noontime it conveyed the same message read by someone else at 12:20 p.m.  My dad had wonderful, relaxing lunches.

My friend wants to “fast forward” through his one year to what can only happen in real time.  He needs to wait and be patient for the next exciting episode of “Rich Man, Poor Man.”  Why?  Because he wants to see how it ends.

About Rev. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.

A Roman Catholic priest since 1980 and a member of the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians). Six books on the Catholic church and U.S. culture are available on
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