Biding Our Time

By Duane Noriyuki, Times Staff Writer - November 15, 2001

In our fast-lane, computer-driven lives, do we have the patience to wait out the war against terrorism?

As we shook our fists and repaired our hearts, there was a pause when it was brought to our attention that the war on terrorism would not be decided at the end of four quarters or nine innings. That it would require, among other things, patience.

After all, we Americans spend thousands of dollars on computers only minimally faster than our last, watch television behind an arsenal of remote controls, created the term "road rage" for our feather-trigger tendencies, and nearly fall to our knees at the supermarket when the cashier leans into a microphone and speaks those unmerciful words: "Price check, please." Yet now, Americans are being asked for the seemingly impossible, to have patience in the war on terrorism.

Patience? Physiologically, our adrenaline gushes, our eyes dilate, our hearts pump like pistons on the 405. On days like Sept. 11, our spirits hunger for justice to preside and for peace to be restored. And despite this week's gains in the war at hand, an end is not in sight. Indeed, analysts and politicians say we may face years of international conflict. But still we seek quick resolution, and to that end our bodies are braced for action. It's a national characteristic, to be sure, but it's also a deeply human trait.

"It's very protective," says psychiatrist David Feinberg, medical director of the UCLA Neuropsychiatric and Behavioral Health Services department. "If you have danger in front of you, you want to be on your toes, so to speak, but then we're asked to breathe deeply, relax and be patient, and the two are in direct conflict, so it's very hard to do."

So, when President Bush looks into the camera and speaks to the nation of resolve and conviction then asks that we be patient, we breathe deeply. We wonder--as justice awaits, bombs fall, airplanes crash and life around us changes forever--how is that possible? To find answers we look to our pasts. We look to the monk, the professor and the fisherman. We look to champions and a relative of a missing child. Then, again, we breathe deeply.

The Buddhist

In Buddhism, patience is one of "six perfections" that form a foundation in the quest for enlightenment. The others are generosity, ethical discipline, perseverance or joyous effort, meditative concentration and discriminative awareness or wisdom, according to the book "Healing Anger: the Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective" (Snow Lion Publications, 1997) by the Dalai Lama.

There is no evil like hatred,
And no fortitude like patience.
Thus I should strive in various ways
To meditate on patience.

These are words translated from Shantideva's "Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life," discussed in the book. The Dalai Lama further states, "The only factor that can give refuge or protection from the destructive effects of anger and hatred is the practice of tolerance and patience."

The Rev. Kusala, a Buddhist monk who also serves as chaplain at the Garden Grove Police Department and UCLA, rode a Suzuki Volusia motorcycle from his home at the International Buddhist Meditation Center in Los Angeles to his parents' home in Wisconsin in September. "Five thousand miles," he says, "13 states. No cell phone."

Like much of life, Kusala says, it was a lesson in patience--stress and discomfort caused by careless drivers, changing road and weather conditions. "Once you accept those things," he says, "then the ride is the way it's supposed to be."

One of the ways to achieve equanimity, perfect balance of mind, nirvana, he says, is to practice patience, and a good way to practice, he tells students, is to go to a convenience store or busy grocery store and choose the longest line.

"That," he says, "is how you practice patience."

The Fisherman

Along the path to enlightenment one might encounter the saintly, the searchers and Curt Gowdy. The 80-year-old retired host of "The American Sportsman" learned about patience from rod and reel and the lessons of nature.

"A lot of what I know," he says, "I learned from fishing. Fishing has been my life, and I can tell you that you have to have a lot of patience."

Gowdy was introduced to the sport at age 6, when his father, a railroad dispatcher in Cheyenne, would take him to the Wyoming waters. Even there and even then, there were days when Gowdy would toss down an empty creel in disappointment and frustration.

"My dad would lecture me on it, saying, 'Come on, now, calm down and be patient. If we don't get 'em today, we'll get 'em tomorrow."'

Gowdy tells of filming a fishing show about eight years ago in New Zealand, where he arrived to streams of cobalt blue, filled with water so clear that the fish could see you coming. In a river called Rangitiki, there were huge boulders creating shadows and magnificent pools where trout lingered.

"We're making this film, and I'm paying for it, and the first day we didn't have any fish, and the second day we didn't have any, and my guide, a guy named Ted Hayes, who owned a lodge there, was getting nervous. He wanted the film to be successful so it would be shown in America and maybe he could get some customers out of it."

On the third day, they carefully approached a pool formed by a boulder in the middle of the river.

"We looked out and saw a fish rise to the top, coming up for flies. I motioned to Hayes that this was it, and I cast, and the fish comes up, and I miss him." Tried again, missed again.

Hayes cursed, yanked his hat off and threw it on the ground and walked away. Halfway up a hill, he stopped and looked down upon the river. He spotted fish up ahead. They approached carefully. Gowdy studied the current and cast.

"Bang," he says, "9-pounder, the biggest trout I ever caught." Sometimes, Gowdy says, "you just have to keep plugging away, keep hoping. Stay optimistic."

The Professor

In 1846, the infamously impatient Donner party set forth from Springfield, Ill., for California. Eager to reach the promised land, they left the established route and attempted a shortcut across the Great Basin and through the Sierra Nevada, where they were hit hard by a blizzard. Only 46 of the 87 members survived.

Their story is one of cannibalism, failed dreams, greed and, notably, impatience.

Another example of impatience was the Spanish-American War, says Richard N. Rosecrance, a political science professor at UCLA who served as a policy advisor during the Johnson administration.

"It was perfectly obvious that a settlement could have been reached with Spain over Cuba," Rosecrance says. "We simply got pushed into very precipitous decisions based on information that was far from reality."

But history has other stories that describe how patience prevailed, says Rosecrance. He cites manifest destiny, the long, bloody battles of the Civil War and the Cold War.

"There were many people who believed that if we just hung in there, the other side would have major problems," he says. "If we had patience, we would be able to maybe not triumph but at least more than hold our own and possibly bring a favorable end to the Cold War."

The Coach

It is a strategy with many applications, one of them implemented by Rep. Tom Osborne (R-Neb.). From 1973 to 1997, Osborne was head football coach at the University of Nebraska.

It was Osborne's belief that a steady, grinding attack would wear the opponent down, allowing his Huskers to dominate at some point during the second half. It didn't always work. The Huskers lost seven straight bowl games under his reign. During one stretch, Nebraska lost five straight years to league rival Oklahoma.

Osborne, however, stayed the course, and, eventually, the Huskers won three national titles.

Elected to office last year, Osborne takes lessons learned from the gridiron and applies them to issues of greater world importance.

"My biggest concern is not whether we can win the battle," he says from his Washington, D.C., office.

"Certainly militarily and economically and in every sphere we have superiority, but the real question is do we have the will, the staying power, the character and the moral fiber as a nation to see it through? We have gotten used to quick and easy solutions in our country."

Easy solutions such as laser surgery for when we can't see, pills for when we can't sleep. Fast food, faster food, fastest food for when we are hungry.

The Chess Player

A century ago, there was no quick solution for Henry Nelson Pillsbury, says Jack Peters, an international master chess player who writes a column for The Times.

In 1896, Pillsbury lost a game to the legendary Emanuel Lasker, a mathematician from Germany. It was one of Lasker's finest games, Peters says, and, afterward, Pillsbury played the game over and over in his mind until he developed a move that he was certain would defeat Lasker.

Pillsbury bided his time for eight years until finally getting a rematch in 1904. By then, his health had deteriorated from the effects of syphilis.

Pillsbury and Lasker, world champion from 1894 to 1921, squared off in Pennsylvania, and Pillsbury played his long-awaited move. In what is regarded as one of his finest games, Pillsbury beat the champ, and, then, two years later, he died.

The Great-Aunt

But war is not chess. It is not football. It is not fishing. Patience is not always something we seek. Sometimes it is forced upon us.

Alma Crittenden, 65, of San Diego, has been waging her own war for 10 years. On July 15, 1991, Crittenden's great-niece, Rasheeyda Wilson, then 9 years old, disappeared while playing in her neighborhood.

Since her disappearance, Wilson's mother died, so it is left to Crittenden to wait and hope. The child's picture still hangs on Crittenden's living room wall. She keeps a stuffed Christmas mouse Wilson played with during visits. Each day, Crittenden prays. From time to time, she calls the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which runs the child's photograph on its Web site. She searches the faces of strangers, and, she says, she will continue looking until there is closure. Her war is against the probable and the unknown.

But in her patience rests hope that, like Homer's Odysseus, who overcame peril and temptation to make his long way home to loved ones, Rasheeyda will return. It is the same hope Crittenden has for soldiers now far away, for all families with empty chairs at the table.

"The only way to be patient," she says, "is to believe and trust in the Lord, to ask him for the guidance and patience to go on."

Words of Encouragement

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, President Bush and members of his administration have counseled and praised patience in the American public.

President Bush:

* "In the months ahead, our patience will be one of our strengths--patience with the long waits that will result from tighter security, patience and understanding that it will take time to achieve our goals, patience in all the sacrifices that may come."

* "We're patient, and the American people are patient. That is bad news for the Taliban."

* "I'm really pleased with the fact that the American people are patient....They understand that it's going to take a while to achieve our objective, and I appreciate that patience."

Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem, Pentagon deputy director of operations for current readiness and capabilities:

* "[The Taliban] are the kind of people who, one, want to survive to be able to rain their terror and fear on others ... and they're very patient. We're going to have to have equal patience and we're going to have to have more determination to win."

* "We are prepared to take however long is required to bring the Taliban down. We definitely need to have patience."

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

* "The watchword is patience."