I park my Honda Civic on the street in Queens. About two years ago, I walked out to my car to discover a small dent in the left front fender. I am sure that someone had tried to park next to my car, missed, and their bumper went into my fender. And of course, there was no business card or insurance information from the person who damaged my car. I suppose you could call it a “dent and run.” I was frustrated and angry, especially that the person did not take responsibility for their mistake.
I did not do anything about the dent. I would go to my car each day, sometimes notice the dent and feel a touch of frustration, and then go about my day. This went on for about two years. I’m not sure why I kept looking at that dent but not doing anything about it. I suppose this would be good for a sermon about procrastination.
Finally, this past September, I was driving near the Temple and saw an auto-body shop. So I pulled into the driveway. The mechanic was helping another woman with her car. I waited. She left. Then he went back into the shop. I had been there for about 5 minutes, without the mechanic acknowledging my existence or helping me. I was feeling a little impatient, but I decided to keep my mouth shut and see what would happen.
A few moments later, the mechanic came over to me, and I showed him the dent. He went into his tool box, pulled out a small metal cylinder, and hammered the dent right out of my fender. I reached into my wallet to pay him, and he said: “There’s no charge. It’s my good deed of the day.” I smiled, thanked him and drove off to the Temple.
As I thought about this small event that made me feel so good, I realized that maybe there was a lesson here about patience. At any point in the five minutes that I waited at the auto body shop, I could have interrupted the mechanic and asked him to help me. I could have been rude or unkind, feeling that I was entitled not to wait. But if I had not stood there patiently, he probably would not have fixed the dent that day, and he certainly would not have done it for free.
Patience is not an easy trait to come by in the 21st Century. With the internet, email and cell phones, we can connect to other people in an instant. And when we go to the auto body shop, or a restaurant we expect to be taken care of immediately. We even have a way of acknowledging if someone attended to our needs quickly enough, by how we tip the waiter or the cab driver or the bell boy.
It’s perfectly natural to want what we want when we want it. But this kind of impatience may not serve us particularly well. After leaving Egypt, Moses went up the mountain to speak to God. He was up there a long time, and the people down below became impatient. They built a golden calf for themselves and began to worship and bow down to it. Moses runs down the mountain, angry at the people. He makes them grind up the calf into dust, and drink it in their water. It was natural for the people to be impatient and scared without Moses their leader. But the problem arose when they decided to act, to build the calf.
Often, we too have the choice of acting on our impatience or just waiting a little longer. In our everyday lives, at the auto body shop or in the restaurant, if we remember a little bit of patience, we may find ourselves with a dent fixed for free or a better table. And for our more complex problems, in our families, at work or with our friends, if we draw upon a reserve of patience, we may discover new ways to deal with difficult situations.
It took me two years to get that dent repaired in my car. There is surely a fine line between patience and procrastination. Yet sometimes in life the dents that we live with take time to hammer out. And if we can offer ourselves, and the other people in our lives, some time and a bit of patience, we my find a way to work out even the most difficult of problems.