Six years ago during my husband’s sabbatical we had the good fortune to live in Melbourne, Australia for six months. I knew the adventure was going to be filled with learning about another country, culture, history and way of life, but I did not know how much I would end up learning about myself nor did I expect that learning to come from one of the most mundane of routines; getting the children to and from school.
You see, while we lived in Melbourne we didn’t own a car. Now, Melbourne is blessed with an amazing public transportation system that includes trains, buses and trams. They even have an app that tells you when the next vehicle will be arriving, but even with that we still had to learn how to wait. We truly had to learn the art of patience, because the tram or bus doesn’t come whenever you decide you need them. Sometimes the tram breaks down and delays all the trams behind it. Sometimes the bus comes thirty minutes late or ten minutes early. The tram certainly doesn’t come any faster when your four year old yells, “When’s the tram going to come?!” over and over, nor will it come any faster if you repeatedly step off the sidewalk and peer down the road to see if you can see a glimpse of it in the distance. It comes when it comes, and how you choose to react to that fact, well, that is where patience comes in.
In Hebrew the word for patience is savlanut, and as Alan Morinis points out in his writings on Mussar (the Jewish practice of developing inner ethics and virtues), savlanut is made from the three-letter root Samech-Bet-Lamed which is also the root for:
•lisbol (to suffer)
•sovel (burden or load)
•sabol (a porter or carrier)
He states, “Seeking out the common element in all these words teaches… Being patient does not mean that you are in a completely calm and unruffled state of mind, but rather that you are able to bear the burden of your hostile and explosive feelings without reacting. Think of your emotional load as a heavy suitcase, and you as the porter who can take it on his shoulder to bear the burden.”
In this view having patience is not about being happy with waiting; you don’t have to enjoy the fact that you have to wait for that bus or tram, or uber or video. You don’t have to smile your way through the checkout line at the supermarket, or the TSA line at the airport, but rather, to cultivate savlanut in ourselves we need to develop the awareness of our emotional reaction to situations beyond our control.
For the rest of the month of the Jewish month of Shvat our Keshet of Kavod middah is savlanut. I invite you to join your children in reflecting on when and where in the course of your day you find yourself “bearing the burden of your hostile or explosive feelings” to situations beyond your control and to imagine what being able to shoulder that burden might feel like.