For most of my life I haven’t been a patient person. My mind has always jumped from one interest or task to another. Each task I took on at home or at work I would feel driven to execute and complete as soon as possible. I’ve never had much patience for others, either. I’m doing better now, but I could stand some improvement.
I think this behaviour was with me from early days. When I was 10 years old my Dad’s moniker for me was, “man in a hurry”.
On my birthday that year, I was given my first plastic model kit, a Model T Ford. I sat down at the kitchen table, looked at the picture on the box and started building. I set the pages of instructions to the side. When I finished the model I had a few pieces left over so asked my Dad why they would include extra pieces that weren’t needed. He must have laughed inside, but he just said that I needed to follow the instructions and not be such a “man in a hurry”.
With my next model kit, rather than read the instructions, I took it on as a challenge. How few parts could I have left if I just started putting it together, instructions be damned? This little competition went on in my head for another few models, then Dad bought me an airplane kit that was complicated. I learned, the hard way, that sometimes instructions are incredibly important. Further, I now understood the need to have patience to actually read them before I started mounting pieces of the kit together.
Through my years in school and university I always tried to see how far I could get by doing things rather than reading about them first. However, I did learn how to identify when I absolutely had to read to learn something before trying to solve a problem. Somehow, I actually graduated as an engineer.
I reached another turning point was when I was managing a project in China, from 1986 to 1991. Out of necessity I learned the value of patience.
During that period of time, China was on the cusp of developing into the modern society we see there today. In those days, many things still moved slowly and I had to adapt to their pace of life if I was going to survive mentally. I took some time, but learned how to manage my expectations. I developed my ability to identify when my expectations exceeded what was possible and then turn off my drive to do too many things at the same time.
I experienced an exception to the methodical approach to work in China where patience was and is a virtue. It impressed me very much, given my normal behaviour at the time.
I had sent over a significant amount of written work that I prepared for the project. I requested that it be translated into their language and to have that ready at hand when I arrived on my next trip. A month later I received the Telex ( yes, that is what they still used in those days) to inform me they were ready for our next working sessions in their offices.
At our first meeting of the trip I asked if they had their translated information at hand so we could get started the next day. This drew a room full of blank stares. Their project manager asked again and then arguments started, all in Mandarin so I had no idea what was going on. Suddenly one of the senior engineering people stood up and everyone else stopped talking. He made a couple of harsh sounding statements in a very loud voice and then left the room, obviously annoyed.
Their project manager then took me aside and apologetically explained that the translation work had not been done and would have to be done before we could start the work sessions. I thought I was in for a week or so of time on my own, but after supper the next day I was visited by their project manager to let me know that they would be ready to start after lunch the next day.
When I arrived in our workroom at the appointed time, there, on a table in the middle of the room was a pile of hard covered books. I noticed that each member of the project team had a copy in front of them. I picked up one of the books and was amazed at what I saw. The book was about an inch and a half thick comprised of printed pages and all my diagrams hand drafted. The project manager then explained that those were all my notes and information that I had sent over. I was more than impressed. So there were managers in their offices who had little patience and, somehow, were able to motivate the appropriate people to create 100 copies of these text books in less than 48 hours. Impressive indeed.
These days my attitude regarding patience isn’t perfect, but I can recognise when I get into a state of jumbled busyness in my head—stop—and take time to let things unfold as the world around me will allow.
One such moment occurred this past week, when I was on my morning walk with the Cochrane Men’s Walking Group. We do this three times a week.
Shortly after we started our walk for the morning, I felt a small stone in my shoe. My initial thought was to put up with it so I could stick with the group for socialisation time. After all, that’s one of the benefits of walking together. However, it wasn’t long before I realised that I couldn’t carry on unless I got that stone out of my shoe. I stopped at a bench that faced the river to get rid of the stone, working as quickly as I could so I could catch up to the group again.
As I pulled my shoe on again, I glanced up and saw the image above. I thought, “nice”, then turned and started moving to catch up with the group. Thankfully I recognised what was happening—I wasn’t taking time in that moment to reflect properly on what I had noticed across the river. I stopped, walked back to the bench, sat down, and took in the view. I managed to put the anxiety of missing socialising time out of my head and start thinking about making a photograph of what was getting my attention. I knew I might never catch up to them if I stayed to make a photograph, but thought again about my lack of patience and told myself to focus on what I saw and felt.
I was experiencing one of those moments when having a camera with me influenced my ability to be patient. The view made me feel good. I took the time to make several photographs with different compositions and from different angles, but the one above appealed to me most.
I did catch up with the walking group, but only because they too had stopped to take a break further down the trail. As always, we had our time together at our after-walk coffee, so I didn’t lose out out on the socialising after all. Once home, I loaded my images into my computer to review my compositions and made my selection. I clearly benefited again by being patient, mainly with myself.
The Image — What I Saw
What first caught my attention was the contrast between the heavy frost on the bushes and the dark ground. Next, the starkness of the leafless winter trees silhouetted against the blanket of white cloud in the sky. At the bottom, I thought the fog rising up out of the river showed some texture in the air.
After some manipulation to enhance those features I was able to create what I saw. As I worked on the image I couldn’t help but think how boring the same scene will be in the summer with green grass, green leaves, blue sky, and no steam from the river.
What I felt by looking at the scene augmented the cold I felt on my face. In Cochrane, a westerly breeze down the Bow River Valley is almost constant. That morning the breeze was frigid.