John and I flew down to the Dominican Republic to spend New Year’s with friends at Casa de Campo. It was the afternoon of our arrival and we were enjoying cold drinks and their view of the sun lowering over the sea when I reached for my phone to take a picture. My head flashed with heat as I realized the phone, credit cards, and drivers license attached were missing. A quick back-track of our steps had us returning to the resort’s security gate where I had been so excited to see our friends pulling in to great us, that I stupidly left the phone behind. I was extremely grateful to learn it had been found and turned over to resort security.
By the time we arrived in the DR, we were already nearing the end of our holiday and I couldn’t help feeling like this little mishap was a final test of sorts because getting reunited with my phone became almost a comical exercise in patience — primarily because I was embarrassed and concerned I’d thrown off our hosts’ evening plans more than any mistreatment by the very conscientious resort staff!
I’ve been given many teachers in this life when it comes to cultivating patience and some of the most poignant have appeared while traveling. At home, it’s easy to construct a predictable daily structure, everything under my control (haha). When I lose my patience at home, I often brush it off as justified — “how dare xyz not serve my needs as I want when I want?” But travel takes me to places where my ego has to admit I am insignificant and invisible. Travel separates me from my well-curated routine, creating obvious opportunities to practice patience, and holds me accountable to family members (who won’t let me get away with anything.)
The first half of the holiday break had us traveling to Punta de Mita, Mexico with our three adult children where we enjoyed the Pacific Ocean, cooked simple meals in the villa, lit Hanukkah candles, played games, and talked. Given the desired simplicity of the trip, it might seem odd that we engaged a travel agent to help plan, but they were instrumental in zeroing in on the perfect spot and as John and I never know how many more trips we will all be able to take together as a family, we don’t take chances. Anyway, this was the type of travel agent who provided an itinerary for the week. Detailed itineraries surely provide a measure of comfort for travelers who like to know what is going to happen each step of the day, but in our family it became a source of amusement, demarcating golf tee times and dinner reservations with time “at leisure,” as if golf and snorkeling was “work” and that every day of our lives as white upper class Americans wasn’t spent in a state of relative leisure. But I digress…
Anyway, hanging out around the dinner table in Mexico led to conversations about resolutions.
One of our children revealed a resolution to try to be more patient. Forever and always, I thought. Did I pass down this terrible impatience gene to my children? Probably.
I’ve been preoccupied with patience with for a while. Most intentionally since John and I began studying the Jewish practice Mussar a few years ago. Mussar is an introspective “accounting of the soul” which hopes to cultivate one’s inner traits and lead, hopefully, to a strengthened spiritual life. It dates back to tenth-century Babylonia, but turns out to be especially relevant in our modern world. Alan Morinis, author of Everyday Holiness: The Spiritual Path of Mussar translates from Hebrew to mean “correction” or “instruction.” He parses one’s inner life into 18 traits, listed in his table of contents not in order of importance but from foundational to higher on the pyramid:
- Yirah (a combination of fear and awe)
There probably isn’t a single character trait on this list that travel doesn’t bring to the fore, but for the sake of the New Year’s resolution this essay will focus on how on a sunny holiday in Mexico and the Dominican Republic converged with lessons of patience.
You might expect me to mention the obvious — security lines at the airport, baggage claim — but the most telling example of patience, or impatience, rather, occurred for me in beautiful Banderas Bay, lying on my surfboard, day one of our trip. Not a cloud in the sky, perfect temperatures, white beaches. I lied on the board, waiting for a wave I could handle, clapping when my children had success and admiring a half a dozen other surfers. I continued to wait, and try, and fall, and wait. The physics of my body/ board/ wave seemed increasingly complicated as the day wore on.
Bobbing up and down on the board, I made friends with a little girl from the local village named Delphina. She was twelve, and she could tear it up. She pointed to where rocks were underwater and stressed the need to be careful. She paddled over to my board and said, “I am sometimes afraid of the waves too.”
“Thanks, Delphina,” I said.
“But when you see a wave you want to take, you have to take it.”
Delphina the Prophet
It was in those hours, surrounded by incredible natural beauty, warm gentle water, and the friendliest of humans, I began to get impatient. And becoming impatient with the ocean and the size of its waves couldn’t have been a more telling barometer of my state of mind.
Coming off a three month book tour where every half hour increment was scheduled and the focus was on “me”, Mexico was a smack down reminder that I am an extremely minor character in the drama swirling about the universe. I didn’t write the script, I’m not the hero nor the victim, just lucky to be a minor minor character in the chorus. Waiting on the surfboard was the yogic eye-opener that I needed at the beginning of the trip.
A few days later our family was lounging on a very lovely boat, whale watching. Hundreds and hundreds of Humpback Whales migrate the three thousand miles from Alaska to Banderas Bay each winter to mate and have babies. The whales had arrived in Mexico just weeks ahead of us. And as the captain did his best to find some action, I caught myself glancing at my watch as if the humpbacks were late to our party. Oh my gosh, have another beer and get over yourself.
Forget being patient with security officers in the Dominican Republic who sequestered themselves with my iphone for two hours to write up a report, thoroughly documenting the incident of an absent-minded middle-aged woman being stupid and describing the attributes of my iphone in four pages of narrative, if I couldn’t be humble and patient in the face of the Pacific Ocean’s waves and migratory Humpback Whales, I was in deep trouble.
Patience and her sister Humility. Numbers One and Two on the master list, for which travel is an amazing classroom, offering so many lessons, including: 1) Lose the itinerary. 2) The waves will come, they always do and even though you’ll fall so many times, you’ll have a handful of epic rides. 3) Whales are miracles — keep your eyes open for them at all times, don’t stop scanning the horizon, and when they appear — celebrate, cheer, etch them in your memory forever and be grateful you are a witness on this planet.