When Does Patience Become Foolishness?

A riddle of sorts:

So, a guy named George makes plans with his friends to go downtown and party hard one Saturday night.  George lives wayyyy out in the suburbs, so he decides that public transportation is the way to go, because that’s the sensible thing to do given the destination and what’s obviously going to happen there. George isn’t super familiar with the transit system, so he works really hard and does his homework, figuring out every minute detail of his journey so he’s totally prepared.

George is going to meet his buddies at 4:00 or so…. so he gets to the transit station around 2:30 pm to make sure that everything goes smoothly. If all goes as expected and he makes every transfer, he should be where he needs to be just a little early. He buys the fare, and goes to the track, and waits. Waits for the train, a length of time that seems like forever. Waits, waits, waits. An hour passes, no train and no hope of a train. Two hours, then three. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Finally, it’s now 4:00 and there’s still no train. George checks his phone to see what’s going on. The phone app says the train should be there at 4:15, so he waits a while longer. Come 4:45, there’s still no train. He looks at the app again, which says there’s a train coming at 5:15. He texts his buddies and says, “I’m coming, just waiting on a train, but I’ll be there!”

The clock rolls past 5:30 and still no train. So, now George has a few options. Does he go and find an alternate form of transportation, knowing that he’s already paid for the train fare and invested hours of waiting for something that’s never come… all to be ridiculously late joining his friends while having a far more reserved party? He knows it’s embarrassing being that late, his friends have already started partying, and George can’t have as much “fun” because he lacks the safety net of having a way back… just thinking about that option makes him kind of sick to his stomach.  Besides, he’s already done the legwork to figure out the routes and has bought a non-refundable ticket.  Because of this significant investment, George ponders continuing to wait for the train.  Even though it’s been over three hours since one went by, and judging by the sparse number of people on the platform, there’s not another train coming in the foreseeable future, this is a serious option in his mind.  The only option beyond these two is to pack it up, call the evening a wash, and just go home.

So, which option does George choose?

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…And now a tangentially related joke, courtesy of a childhood spent at church:

A fellow named Rick lives in a modest home near a scenic river, so close in fact that he lives in the stream’s floodplain.  For years, Rick goes along with life there because the setting is so beautiful and because floods never really threaten his home.  Well, one spring, there was a lot of rain, and that all washed into the river.  The floodwaters rose higher and higher, eventually coming as high as the top stoop of Rick’s front porch.

The county sheriff came by and paid Rick a visit.  Based on the forecast, which called for nothing but rain for weeks ahead, the sheriff had called for everyone within 500 yards of the river to evacuate, and that order included Rick’s house.  So, the sheriff waded up to Rick’s house and knocked on the door.

“Howdy, Sheriff!” Rick called, opening the door. “What brings you over here?”

“Well, Rick,” the sheriff explained, “you’ve gotta leave. The floodwaters are comin’, and you need to get out so you can be safe.”

“No, no no, I’m fine,” Rick replied.  “The good Lord will take care of me!”

“But Rick, if you don’t get out, you’re gonna be in a whole heap of trouble.”  The sheriff stayed and argued for a little bit, but he knew Rick well enough that he knew it was of no use, and eventually, the sheriff gave up and went to help others in the area.

The rain kept coming, and coming. And coming!  By the next day, the waters were waist high all through Rick’s house.  As he waded through his floating belongings, Rick heard a rap on the door.

“Search and rescue! Do you need help?”  Rick walked over to the open window and found a pair of emergency rescuers, floating at a canoe which was nearly at eye level.

“No, no no, I’m fine,” Rick replied.  “The good Lord will take care of me!”

“Sir,” begged the rescuer, “we need to get you out of here.  The floodwaters are only gonna get higher, and they’re gonna be higher than your roof soon.”

“No ma’am.  I’ve got faith. You’ve gotta have faith.”  Rick wasn’t about to leave, and after some more pleading, the canoe eventually floated away.

Another day passed, and just as the folks in the canoe said, the waters kept getting higher.  The Coast Guard was called out, and they brought helicopters to aid with the rescue effort.  These “choppers” were scanning the countryside, trying to find survivors. Thanks to the efforts of the sheriff and the other rescuer, everyone had already left.  Everyone except, much to the surprise of the pilot, one man.  Now, Rick was sitting on the very peak of the top of his house.  He had been marooned on his own home, and he was sitting on the only dry spot left.

Hovering above, the helicopter sent down a small rescue basket with a Coast Guard rescuer inside, intending to bring Rick to safety. The rescuer was stunned by what he encountered. Looking broken, unshaven and definitely carrying an odor of his own, Rick met the rescuer with a hearty handshake and a surprising level of confidence.

“Sir,” the rescuer explained, “I’m here to take you to safety. Hop on this basket and we’ll be on our way. We’ve got a shelter set up with warm food, hot showers, and dry beds. Let’s go!”

“No, no no, I’m fine,” replied Rick. “I’ve got faith. You’ve gotta have faith. The good Lord’s gonna take care of me.”

“Sir, I don’t have time for this. Let’s go.”

“No, no. I’m in the Lord’s hands. He’ll take care of me.”

And so the rescuer wound back up the pulley, and the helicopter left, the propellers slowly becoming inaudible and the water around Rick’s house calming from the wind.

Eventually, the floodwaters got even higher, and Rick couldn’t stay on his roof. He was swept away, and he drowned.

When Rick died, he went to heaven and he met the “good Lord,” God himself. Now Rick, being a man of faith, wasn’t one to much question God, but he was certainly confused by the turn of events.

“Rick, what’s wrong?” asked God. “You’re in heaven now, aren’t you happy?”

“Lord,” Rick answered, “I’m just a little confused. I had nothing in faith in you. I was steadfast in my faith that you’d help me out of that one, and you didn’t come through. I’m just a little shaken, that’s all.”

“Well, Rick, I did send the sheriff, the canoe, and then the helicopter.”

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Certainly the subjects in each story are fools. But where did they change from being patient, polite and rule-abiding to… well, just being foolish?

Where’s the line that divides the two?

Author: Andrew Shears

Andrew Shears is an Assistant Professor of Geography at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. His research interests lie at an intersection of the human-environmental nexus, and includes branches of mapping, technological, memorialization and urban geographies. He lives in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania with his wife Amy, a professional photographer.