Character of Patience

Dear J-

At our wedding, my dad got up and gave a speech about patience, noting that the Chinese character for patience could be decomposed into two distinct parts, or radicals, meaning ‘knife’ and ‘heart’ (or, as I’ve heard it, “patience is a knife in the heart with a drop of blood”). Thanks to my inattention in Saturday-morning Chinese classes, I’ve rendered it below from various internet searches (the one that works out best is ‘chinese calligraphy patience’, assuming you’d rather see real artistry, not my horrible scribblings).

Patience Character

I took a few classes in Chinese history while I was at school; initially, a bit out of guilt as I hadn’t really connected to my roots aside from brokenly explaining to my grandpa that I wanted to watch Voltron on his TV and celebrating festivals without comprehension. Later, I discovered a real thirst for history in general. It’s absolutely humbling to discover that you’re not first, you’re not even second, or third, or … to achieve or experience something brilliant. One of the most basic lessons was in the pictographic nature of Chinese characters — for example, the character for North (c’mon, you mahjong players should recognize this), 北, may have grown out of an image of two people huddled back-to-back against a bitter north wind.

Most complex Chinese characters can be decomposed into smaller parts, and there’s only a couple hundred or so of these smaller parts (also known as ‘radicals‘ — see, not just for dissidents anymore) to memorize. It’s maybe the closest equivalent to a western-language alphabet that you’ll get for the written Chinese language. There’s also a phonetic alphabet for Mandarin Chinese, but that’s far beyond today’s scope (incidentally, the written language is the SAME for all dialects of Chinese; it’s the spoken language that’s mutually unintelligible amongst dialects).

Knife Radical The top part of the character for patience is the knife (with the ‘drop of blood’). My family name is actually a homonym for the Chinese verb ‘to cut’, so I’ve seen this radical before.

The knife rests on the heart radical. Or, if you prefer, the knife stands poised, a virtual Damocletian threat, dangling over the vulnerable heart.Heart Radical

This started out with the speech — my dad spoke at some length on the importance of patience in marriage. Patience, he said, patience is a little like sticking a knife in your heart. It’s painful. It’s not what you’d do willingly. Yet if you truly respect and love each other, it means you chose someone else to put first, even beyond your own wants and needs. And no, though it doesn’t stop hurting, it does get easier to let go of the selfishness keeping your wounds fresh and stinging every time you exercise patience.

I’ve been thinking a lot about patience, lately. Every day there’s something else, something new — this week we’ve been trying to get figgy to bottle-feed expressed milk, in the hopes that when theVet does return to work, she won’t starve in daycare. Several false tries (and trying nights) later, we’ve settled on some el-cheapo preemie bottles from Target as better than anything else — at least she’ll eat from them, unlike the horrifically real fake-boob bottles we now have sitting in storage. Before that, it was getting her to sleep at night. Tomorrow, it’ll be something else. I keep reminding myself that if I see it as being all uphill from here, I’m not going to enjoy the journey. No one’s keeping score along the way. The journey is the reward. Should I fail to find the joy in the now, should my patience stretch too thin to see the humor in today then I truly have failed.



3 Responses to “Character of Patience”

  1. Jack Hadley Says:

    Well written. Thanks.

  2. tee Says:

    is the the correct symbol for patience because i have seen 2 diffrent ones and i really wanna get this tattoo’d

  3. thegreensaint Says:

    Exceptionally well stated. You have a wonderfully concise mind! Thank you for sharing these principles with us. You have given a good set of teachings to us.

    You were truly blessed to have such a kind father.

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