I am not a particularly patient person, but as I sat at the train station last Thursday night, pondering at the wooden ceiling, there was no place I would have rather been.
In Bowdoin’s busy atmosphere, I have become accustomed to measuring my time. I trained myself to say “shall we?” at dinner to get going to my next event. To do as much as I can, I move from place to place. But on the eve of Family Weekend, as my parents approached Brunswick on the Downeaster, I was satisfied to sit and to wait. Why? In a world full of things to do, what is the value of patience?
Sand and sediment are pushed around impatiently by currents of wind and water. Waves pull beach sand in and out with the tides. But if the sand is still for long enough and placed under immense pressure, it can be compacted, cemented and turned into sandstone. This process happens over thousands or millions of years; we are not granted the instant gratification of seeing the sand transform, but thanks to earth scientists, we know that it happens. We use sandstone for the foundations of buildings by mixing it with cement to make concrete. We build families on foundations of cemented sandstone, foundations that are possible because the sand stayed still, under pressure, for a very long time.
My family is built from our patience with one another. For twenty years, our patient presence together established the foundation on which we joke, tease and belly laugh. Since I know my patience will support a lasting foundation, I am willing to settle out of the currents that pull me hither and thither. I am willing to sit still so that we may become sandstone together. I wait for my mom to find the words to express herself. I wait for my dad as he takes hundreds of photos. I even smile for ten of them. I wait for the Downeaster to arrive late. I wait for my brother to answer my texts. I choose to invest in my family because I know it is an investment in a long future ahead of us.
Familial relationships last through trials that friendships do not. I do not wish to erase the friendships that are like family; my dearest friends will be dear for all my life. However, social scientists found that, in general, friendships lose closeness when they lose time together, whereas relationships of kin are less affected by time spent apart. When my parents came for Family Weekend, and we went to the beach together, it was like no time had passed from strolling the beaches of Oregon and Washington two, four, six or ten years ago. Familial ties are robust to the weathering of time and distance. Quartzite sandstone is particularly strong because it has been pressed together within the earth’s crust. My family has likewise been pressed together in our home and in our much smaller car (for road trips that lasted a little too long). Kin have been with me since my first memory and will be with me until my last, like the rocks beneath our feet or the sand particles within a piece of sandstone.
Standing on the Giant’s Stairs of Bailey Island, my dear friend says, “I like the rocks because I know they’ve been here for a long time.” I think to myself, “I like the rocks, too. They are patient.” She and I linger in silence at lunch. The silence is not awkward; it is comfortable and patient silence as we build a sandstone foundation together. When I let the silence sit for long enough, she scrunches up her face at me. I scrunch back. I am looking forward to a lifetime of scrunchy faces and quiet pauses ahead. Like metamorphosing rock, the lunchtime gags may slowly change form, but they will still be composed of the same core elements: she and I and a healthy dose of goofiness.