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The Spirit's temper

It has an infinite fuse, stretching to eternity

Watching Uncle Irving get mad was like watching a volcano erupt in slow motion. It started in the hands, which clenched into tight little fists. Then red spread up the neck, around each ear, onto the face. Finally, words poured from the mouth. The words weren’t nasty. There were just a lot of them. To a child of 8, the overall effect was impressive.

Once I asked my father about his brother. “Well,” he said, a smile playing on his lips, “Irving has always had a short fuse.” My father, in contrast, had a long fuse. He was even and steady, a man who planted terrariums in great, green glass bottles while waiting for spring. He had a center of gravity that grounded us all.

Patience marks the difference between the two men, one short-tempered and the other long-tempered. That difference points toward the Spirit’s temper. My uncle’s explosions show the real enemy of patience to be anger, not impatience. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it. Frustrated in that, he simply blew up. Instinct unleashes anger whenever things don’t go our way.

Rage has many disguises. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher misspoke when she said: “I am extraordinarily patient—provided I get my way in the end.” Thatcher describes not patience but anger thinly veiled. Patience doesn’t count on winning a war of attrition by simply wearing people down. Rather, patience drops a “my way or the highway” posture to make a firm commitment to peace.


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