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Patience - The Journey To Ithaca

Updated on May 27, 2013

Patience - The Journey To Ithaca

May 24, 2013

Winston Wayne Wilson

In the race of life, never take the lead.

Pace yourself! There is no prize for speed.

(W. Wayne Wilson, Life In Seconds, 2009)

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Life is a journey. We all know that. For some it is a very long journey and for others a short and untimely one. For some parts of the journey we ride on camels amidst lush, fecund lands; other times, we must walk barefooted along scorching desert sands or even on hot burning coals. Some parts of the journey we get to fly first class on a jumbo jet on a clear day; other times we must ride at night on a tattered bicycle along a dusty dirt road. Like the fish with the umbrella, we must learn to adapt on the journey. All these nuances make the journey fascinating, albeit challenging and at times daunting. No two journeys are alike and so each journey is a unique story that leaves its mark on our planet.

The most important yet least observable virtue on life’s journey is patience. Patience involves taking the time to discover things along the journey and to accept them as they are; to connect to people, places and things we encounter – without obsession; to experience love and hate and be damaged by neither; to find ourselves yet not be afraid to embrace ourselves at the reunion. If we do these things then the journey will move along at the right pace.

In our fast-paced, frenetic society replete with hyper-attention deficit disorders and speed obsessions, it is easy to be impatient. One of my favorite poems is Ithaca by Constantine P. Cavafy. Despite the polysyllabic profundities and Greek mythological references, the poem is really about patience – something I struggled with for many years. Here is the poem:

Ithaca (1911)

Constantine P. Cavafy


When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,

pray that the road is long,

full of adventure, full of knowledge.

The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,

the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:

You will never find such as these on your path,

if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine

emotion touches your spirit and your body.

The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,

the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,

if you do not carry them within your soul,

if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.

That the summer mornings are many, when,

with such pleasure, with such joy

you will enter ports seen for the first time;

stop at Phoenician markets,

and purchase fine merchandise,

mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,

and sensual perfumes of all kinds,

as many sensual perfumes as you can;

visit many Egyptian cities,

to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.

To arrive there is your ultimate goal.

But do not hurry the voyage at all.

It is better to let it last for many years;

and to anchor at the island when you are old,

rich with all you have gained on the way,

not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.

Without her you would have never set out on the road.

She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.

Wise as you have become, with so much experience,

you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

The key message in the poem is that life is a journey that we should not rush because the captivating stories we collect are the only tangible things that we will have in the end. We are storytellers. The people in Ithaca want to hear the stories about how we survived the raging seas, the fascinating places we explored, and the wisdom we gained from our experiences. They want to hear the good, the bad and the ugly. Without these captivating stories we will have nothing to share at the end of the journey. Our goals and dreams are mere destinations. But it is the undulating journey towards these destinations that matter the most. Facts and circumstances are the things in life that we inherit and cannot always control. How we deal with these facts and circumstances is what creates our unique stories that get scribbled on the chapters of our lives. I know we don’t always like the things that happen to us – but they are our survival stories and one day they will be useful. Always remember, your bad experience or horror story might one day become the salvation to someone else. Maybe a friend, or a relative or even your own child.

There are many captivating stories that we all have the ability to excavate or create on the journey. Life is full of wondrous stories that we can excavate if we patiently invest the time to explore. We can also create captivating stories based on the brave choices we make, the calculated risks we take, the storms we weather, the mountains we climb, the oceans we navigate, or the sorrows we survive. There are endless potential stories in our lives. Unless we patiently take the time to capture them we will lose them.

In many ways, Ithaca symbolizes not only the journey through life but also old age and dying. When you are faced with old age and or death, right before you take your last breath and your life flashes before you, you will see all the inhabitants of Ithaca. In unison, they will ask you about your journey. If you have nothing to share, you departure from life’s journey will be saddened by regret and loss. If your eyes light up at the question and you say, “boy do I have lots to tell you”, then your departure will be illuminated by the pride of your survival and the great stories you have to share.

So, my challenge for you today is to press pause. Begin to rewrite the story of your life. Focus on what you have endured, what you have accomplished, the dreams that came true, and the earthly gifts that you do have. Embrace all these things in a blanket of gratitude. Next focus on all the things you were too weak to endure, failed to accomplish, dreams that did not come true and the material possessions you do not have. Chalk all those things up to experience and then let them go – on the journey to Ithaca you don’t need baggage. As you go about the rest of your life’s journey, don’t forget to be patient. Observe something in nature a little longer. Learn something new. Ask more questions. Speak to someone ahead of you on the journey and ask them to share some war stories. Don’t forget the biblically inspired adage: “ The race is not given to the swift nor the strong but he who endures until the end.” Have a patient life.

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