Patience worked at a homeless shelter and people there always said that she was a virtue. Patience hated this. It was like she had to live up to some unreasonable standard. “Do people named Georgia all want to live in their State namesake?” She would ask this of anyone who told her she was not living up to her name. Then she would add, “I have nothing left of myself for certain people and situations. Too bad.”
Patience, when she tended to the indigent and the chronically suffering, was completely present with her charges and gave them her every attention and, of course, her patience. But when, some administrator or donor crossed her path, she was ruthlessly dismissive and even abusive. This rankled the managers of the shelter and they would sometimes get up the courage to approach Patience and ask her if she could please tone it down and try living up to her name. Her response was always the same.
“I only have so much patience and I need to spend it on the people who really need me. So, piss off.”
The shelter management juggled the schedules to keep Patience away from anyone she might be inclined to insult, especially anyone who was important to the shelter and its continued funding. Sometimes, despite their efforts, Patience ripped through anyone who happened to be unlucky enough to cross her path. But still the management at the shelter saw what a good job she did with the homeless and hopeless. Indeed, she was very popular with the shelter visitors and so there was great fear that, if she left, the shelter would suffer.
One day a new resident, Jacob, a tiny, elderly man who wore a rumpled navy pinstripe suit, arrived at the shelter. He was unfailingly polite to everyone, residents, employees, and volunteers. Unlike some of the residents, he was quick to offer help and even volunteered to help clean up after meals. Patience liked this new client and spent more and more time working beside him. Inevitably, Jacob witnessed some of Patience’s meltdowns. One night she chewed out the kitchen director for stuffing that was not warm and then ripped into a volunteer for doling out what she felt was too little food.
When Patience was walking back to the dorms with Jacob, allowing him to lean on her to support of his bad hip, he asked her why she was so hard on the workers. She said, “I can’t live up to my name always and with everyone. I only have enough patience for so many people.”
Jacob stopped to rest against the wall and frowned up at her. “That is nonsense. Patience does not come from a shallow bowl, but from the deepest and constantly upwelling container of the heart. It can be limitless.”
“And how do you know this?” Patience smiled wryly.
“Oh, I know because I was once a man who believed that I had to conserve kindness and patience. I thought that being kind took something out of me. But I was wrong.”
“How did you know you were wrong? Did someone tell you? Like you are telling me? And you just changed as you expect I will?” Now she was smirking.
Jacob sighed and his shoulders sagged. “I learned the hard way. I lost the little patience I had for others. I got too used to restricting my kindness. I had less and less and finally I had none and I realized too late that I had closed off my heart to the world. You see, when you restrict virtues, you have less and less over time. The Sun does not restrict it’s warmth and light. If it did, things on the planet would die and the Sun would have no purpose.
“But almost by magic, when you are selflessly patient and kind to everyone, you have more and more to give.”
Patience laughed in his face and told him he was full of shit.
He frowned and a tear rolled down his cheek.
“You see, my dear, it has already begun. I wonder if am the first resident you have snapped at. I won’t be the last.”
They walked the rest of the way to the dormitory in silence and once Jacob was settled, Patience rushed out to the stinking trash heap in the back of the building and cried.