By Fr. Glenn Jones
“Fleas, fleas, fleas…”… the first line of one of a favorite poem when taking Spanish eons ago, in a text … alas … long lost, and which even Google, it seems, cannot find. The “speaker” a cat, ceaselessly besieged by the little biting buggers … lamenting his fate and cursing his tormentors. Been there, done that … having rented a room decades ago from someone who owned a flea magnet for a pet, whose little hitchhikers seemed to find my flesh quite delectable. Such a lovable dog, though—a good ol’ Lab. How can you get mad at a Lab? It’s the eyes….
That was such a great poem because it was such a good analogy for our lives, because oftentimes it’s not the big things that get to us, but the barrage of little annoyances. “Oh…I lost big in the stock market today; oh, well. What?! … the internet is down!?!?! Augghhh!!” Like Shakespeare wrote: “For there was never yet philosopher that could bear a toothache patiently.” (Much Ado about Nothing). And so … we stomp around in a tantrum … breathing fire at all who cross our path. Like when moms answer the phone, and the little ones—having until that moment been absorbed in quiet play—immediately are at their skirts: “Mom. Mom. Mom” … ad infinitum.
Alas … these “pulgas” in our lives are the human condition … always something biting … always innumerable little pinpricks plaguing us to seemingly try us to our limits. And thus the tremendous value of, and need for patience, in life. For instance, who among us, having lost patience at some little annoyance, have not caused havoc for which we (and others) paid dearly. Such impatience is a sign of immaturity and childishness—being “spoiled” in expecting things must always go our way and to never be troubled.
So much of our impatience comes out in speech. We all know how hasty words are like proverbial feathers in the wind—once loosed, never retrieved, possibly causing ruin to relationships so very unnecessarily (“The blow of a whip raises a welt, but a blow of the tongue crushes the bones.” (Sirach 28:17)). And so the truism: “A man of quick temper acts foolishly, but a man of discretion is patient.” (Proverbs 14:17) And few things are indicative of patience and maturity as the ability to hold one’s tongue when frustrated … for “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body…set on fire by hell…a restless evil, full of deadly poison…From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so.” (James 3:5-10).
In our time of so much immediate gratification, it can be a challenge to cultivate patience—in our little ones, or in ourselves. After all, we just have to go to Netflix, the web, etc., to find a limitless array of entertainment, solutions to problems, etc., which hardly cultivates resolute determination to patiently deal with problems. In worst case, we simply escape, leaving the problems to grow worse.
But the disciplined and successful person necessarily must cultivate patience with life, understanding that everyone endures difficulties and hardships—an infinity of “pulgas” during our lives. Certainly some people have much harsher problems to deal with than others, but “severity” of problems is also relative to what we’re accustomed to; for instance, the annoyances we’ve experienced during this COVID pandemic are generally much less than many of the difficulties in Third-World countries … but to us, it seems like a lot. While we complain about restaurants being closed, many people worry about food period.
I’ve learned over the decades that when problems, complaints, difficulties are coming fast and furiously, to just pause and chuckle: “Okay, Lord; you’re testing me. Give me the gift of patience. But … I wouldn’t mind a little assist, please.” And somehow the world doesn’t collapse. Sometimes I wonder if that’s the very reason so many things can come at us all at once sometimes—to teach us a bit of humility and to recognize our own limitations, and ask for a little help from on high. Certainly the Bible teaches that.
And so … humble resignation and patient endurance through the inevitable challenges of life are great virtues—the ability to accept what comes and to deal with it as best as possible … all with a remembrance of the moral principle that the end doesn’t justify the means—that we ought to do all things morally, with kindness and love, and not consider apparent but immoral solutions to problem. A moral solution in a week is better than an immoral solution today; just ask your conscience! And so … rather than rage at the rain, plant something … knowing that the successful solution of problems makes one stronger and wiser. But also remember: we’re all in this together, hurtling through space on the same ship, and no ship runs smoothly without teamwork. And teamwork is best cultivated via Jesus’ admonition to all: Love one another.
Pulga, animal insolente
El tormento de la gente
Donde no hay salubridad
Pica y pica con ruindad
A la mascota y demás
Pica sin parar jamas
Y si a la cama se sube
Fido ó el gato con nube
Les deja su mal recuerdo
Con mi total desacuerdo
En su subida a la cama
—Francisco R. Villatoro
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.