One silver lining waiting to be extracted from the very dark cloud that is the Covid pandemic may be that, whether we like it or not, we have all been schooled in the traditional virtue of patience. How old-fashioned that word sounds! Our modern world of instant gratification places ever more emphasis on the desirability of speed. Speed sells across many markets - from instant access and downloading to dating and dieting, from reckless couriers to same day delivery, from overnight stardom to hare-brained government rail schemes. We increasingly live in a way that blithely ignores Mahatma Gandhi’s wise observation that ‘There is more to life than increasing its speed’. There have been noble attempts to reverse this Gaderene rush towards the future, such as the excellent ‘Slow Food’ movement in Italy some years ago, but in general we seem in thrall to the dogma that fast is good, and fastest is best.
However, as we continue gradually to emerge from our collective pandemic-imposed hibernation, we may find that patience is not only a benefit but a necessity. To emerge, blinking, back into the cold daylight of normal engagement can be overwhelming enough, but one thing that soon becomes apparent is that things aren't quite as we left them. Life has changed, and probably forever. This is especially so for those bold enough to travel. Not only is the whole process thrown into uncertainty by the constant changes of government policy and health guidelines, but once we are committed to the journey, we may well find that flights are fully booked, airports crowded and security lines long and tedious. Understandably impatient to up, up and away, we are all on edge.
One thing that can help navigate this disorienting reorientation is patience. Patience is a generosity of spirit, an extension of human empathy that is rightly due to fellow travellers, overstretched transport and counter staff who are doing their best, and also to ourselves and our own unsettledness. We should remember this when it's way past check-in time and our hotel room still isn't ready, or when we feel enraged by the dawdlers moving too slowly through the terminal, or the self-absorbed glued to their phones, oblivious to anyone else. Amidst all the human confusion and manifest imperfection it might help to remember just how smoothly the complex business of social interaction generally goes – and in the context of travel, how many bags aren't lost, how many flights aren't late, how many overstretched airport and hotel employees come to work ready to serve, each of them with their own story, their own difficulties, that are kept in abeyance behind the official façade. This is especially so at this time of pandemic, with almost everyone having to deal with family tensions and financial stresses.
So when we are feeling frustrated and anxious because life has thwarted our plans – which, after all, are really just an attempt to control the always unpredictable future – we should perhaps remember that we still enjoy benefits that far too many on our planet don’t enjoy, and never will. A little patience allows us to see things in a wider perspective and be grateful for what we have. As so often, it sounds sweeter in Italian, so next time you feel your blood beginning to boil because things aren’t going as you would wish, just repeat that most mellifluous of mantras: Santa pazienza, santa pazienza.