Learning to wait your turn is an important social skill taught in kindergarten. The blue table lines up first for recess. The purple table lines up first for lunch. Squirmy or hungry 5 year olds at the red table or the yellow table can barely contain their impatience and annoyance at not being called first, but they do — under the guidance of a competence and caring teacher.
For most of us, waiting our turn takes a lifetime of practice. Merging in city traffic, being put on hold by a computerized phone voice or standing in line to go through security at the airport require good humor, incredible restraint and an acceptance of our everyman status, as well as an understanding of the necessity for protocols to establish some sort of safety and order.
Each one of us has a trigger point when trying to be patient and waiting our turn. Mine is dealing with technology. Not being a digital native, I am cranky and can’t hide my frustration when faced with a tech problem. I want my needs satisfied now! This is not my imagination. My very kind tech guru son sometimes reminds me of this flaw when I interrupt him (forgetting about taking turns in conversation, too!) as he tries to guide me through computer or iPhone glitches. I feel inadequate facing a technology hurdle, hating that I am not as skilled as a 10 year old!
I wonder when we get easily annoyed, is it because deep inside, we don’t feel worthy or competent? Then, we bluster, demand or use sharp words showing our exasperation. Others, I imagine, also feel inadequate at times, for a host of reasons — financial resources, body image, social standing, secure relationships and/or employment status — and I wonder do any of these things really matter?
Then, poking my head out of my self-centered cloud and associated musings, I try to imagine being homeless and wonder if getting my next meal or a blanket for a cold night were dependent upon my place in line and the line civility of those around me. Would I be gracious? Would I wait my turn or become a line bully and push my way to the front, declaring my need?
Folks living on the streets mirror the rest of society. Some people are rule-followers, procedure-compliant and rarely step outside established structures to demand special attention. Others, feeling desperate or maybe just privileged, ignore systems and other people, raising the level of tension for everyone by their brash behavior and refusal to wait their turn.
Handling these occasional individuals obsessed with their kingliness is a challenge for people in charge, whether it is the ticket agent at the airport or someone handing out free food from a truck. No work manual really addresses these situations adequately. Instead, workers and volunteers who are compassionate, try to do the best job they can, defusing potentially volatile situations. Some seem gifted in this way, paving the way for win/win situations. Bless them!
And then there are always the moments of grace, when a person who has just been shoved aside says gently, “No problem, let him have the window seat or the last meat sandwich. I’m OK with it.” Wherever these saints come from, we need more of them.
Wearing my bossy pants or maybe just my well-worn teacher hat, if I am on the front line and in charge when I see one of these minor miracles, I suggest that the warrior thank the peacemaker who has allowed him to cut the line or take the last brownie. It mostly works for the moment. In these situations, I like to think we have all learned something about the beauty of receiving and of giving and fantasize that one day civility will reign and that the pushy person with a little nudging might just become the next peacemaker.
For me, once again, I’m going to try to be conscious of my behavior, reining in my impatience (that’s always bubbling beneath the surface) while breathing deeply — attempting to be more Zenlike and wait. More Christlike and love.
We are all flawed still uniquely magnificent.
Judy Knotts is a parishioner of St. John Neumann Catholic Church, and former head of St. Gabriel's Catholic School and St. Michael's Catholic Academy. Her newest book, "You Are My Brother," is a collection of past American-Statesman faith columns.