Patience with a Purpose

As I was walking out of City Hall after a particularly prickly Council meeting a gentleman patted me on the back and said “Mr. Mayor, you have the patience of Job!” It was a nice complement and I thanked him, but it is not a virtue that comes naturally to me, nor one that I am always able to access. But the patience that I do demonstrate is purposeful and calculated. A result of a great many life lessons; observations, successes and failures, quite often delivered by what I like to refer to as the “Hand of God.”

Now before you get all worked up… let me explain. What I’m referring to are simple little incidents when it appears that a “giant invisible hand” (possibly belonging to a being with a particularly wicked sense of humor) has rather abruptly interrupted something that I’m doing, simultaneously delivering a lesson in humility. For example…

More than a few decades ago, I was a young, energetic, demanding, impatient superintendent for a large construction company. I wanted things done… and done now. If there was a problem I wanted it fixed… now! I was a hard and tireless worker that believed that anything could be fixed by working even harder and bulling straight through to the conclusion. I was wrong. Fortunately, when I needed it most, I received “guidance.”

I was operating a large crane that was perched on top of a 40’ tall pile of dirt, right next to the water. The crew of men who were working for me out over the water on a barge, were attempting (in vain) to align the large pile driver that was suspended by the crane onto a piling. It was like trying to thread a needle with a sledge hammer and extremely frustrating. After what seemed like an eternity (two minutes) my patience had, as usual, vanished and I was furious. The men were 60’ out into the water and since the crane, pumps and other machinery were screaming louder than me, I slammed the brake pedals down, locked the machine in position and jumped out of the crane on a dead run down the steep slope towards the water.

About 10’ down the slope of clean fresh dirt, I felt something grab my foot and I was instantly airborne, flying just like Superman (without the super powers or good looks) towards the water. Flying along, about two feet above the ground, arms outstretched in front of me, I thought “Oh…this isn’t going to end well!” SPLASH! Luckily, the water was deep and since I had entered the water in Superman position, I was completely unharmed. Once under water, I decided to stay there for a while and take stock of what just happened. As I sat there on the bottom of the bay, I thought… “I wonder if anybody saw me do that…and if not, how was I going to explain to the crew my sudden and apparently “magical” appearance in the water?” This caused me to start laughing and then drowning, so I popped up to the surface.

When I did, the entire crew was still staring intently up at the piling, patiently waiting for the crane operator (me) to lower the hammer. Finally, the foreman turned around to see what the hold up was and saw me there laughing while treading water 60 feet away from the now unoccupied crane. After I told the crew what had happened… we all had a good laugh and as I made my way back up the slope with a relaxed, light heart… the solution to the construction problem suddenly and clearly came to me. I turned and looked at the spot where I had tripped. There was nothing there but smooth, clean sand.

Later on in my young career, building bridges and ship ports throughout Florida, I began to learn more about the art of knowing when to wait, when to act quickly, how to plan for multiple scenarios and how reacting calmly would invariably lead to better, quicker solutions. A year or so later, the owner of the company came down to the job site and found us removing huge steel I-beams that were driven deep into solid rock. A large crane was hooked to one of the beams and was sitting motionless, placing steady tremendous pressure on the beam. My boss, being even more impatient than I had ever been, wanted it out of the ground immediately and insisted on having us tug, jerk, pound and twist on the beam… but to no avail. As he stood there puffing impatiently on his cigarette, sipping on a warm can of coke, I told him “Let me show you something.” We hooked the crane back up, applied steady, intense pressure on the beam and then stood back away from the machine and waited. Five minutes later as we were leaning against my truck talking about the next job, the 40’ steel beam suddenly shot out of the ground all the way to the tip of the 100 foot crane boom, then thunderously crashed up and down like a giant bungee jumper.

Although my emotions do periodically get the best of me, the practice of using patience as an active force has proven invaluable to me over the years. Patience is confidence in the power of time. It encourages us to measure twice and cut once. To look before we leap. To face adversity calmly, with a light heart… because the cooler head will almost certainly prevail. It may be a concept that is difficult to accept for those who are anxious for change, for instant gratification, for continuous signs of progress, but the truth is that real progress often remains hidden from us until the goal is achieved and sometimes… you have to trip and fall before a solution presents itself.

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