Wednesday, April 28, 2010

You Don't Know Jack

A few years ago, I read a book called, Steering By Starlight by Martha Beck. I remember so clearly I was sitting in an airport waiting for my flight. I had read a few chapters and it seemed interesting, but it wasn't hitting any real chords. Then, Martha asked me to do an exercise.  I hate that.  I will read these books, but do I really have to "work" at it?  For some reason, I did this exercise.

It was called, "Telling Your Life Backwards".  You were supposed to choose the three best things in your life.  Then, you chose one of the three.  Next, you came up with the happy event that contributed to having this thing.  The next step was harder.  You had to take this thing and go back further in your life history.  As you went backwards (if you really thought hard), you would find a "supposedly" bad thing that eventually led to the favorite thing.

I forced myself to go through the process.  As I really thought it over, I realized that one of the favorite things in my life (traveling through Europe alone) came from a very difficult time in my life.  I had put it out of my mind and completely forgotten the true genesis of something in my life that brings me great joy.

If you are interested in trying this exercise, go to pages 5 - 8 at this link:

The long and the short of this is that we know that the saying, "when one door closes, another one opens," is true, but we give it lip service and I think we forget it really is true.  When you honestly believe that saying, life becomes much easier.

Here is an article with an old tale that examines that very idea.


You Don't Know Jack

by Jon Carroll
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
San Francisco Chronicle

You get older, things change, and sometimes - most of the time - the change is not good. Noticing that a series of not-good things have happened to you and your cohort, you might become depressed, or at least melancholy.

I am susceptible to that, but I am also convinced by the notion that we have exactly zero expertise at predicting the future. Not that I listen to the angel of my better smartness; aren't we all like that? There are certainly blessings in disguise, but mostly blessings look like blessings. And curses.

And then I came across a tale told to me by a loyal reader and frequent correspondent known to me only as Performs. He is sketchy on the details of the origin of the story; it sounds like Sufi to me, but it could be some flavor of Buddhism. Anyway. It's clearly been updated. But the essence remains. Here it is:

"Many years ago in a poor Chinese village, there lived a peasant with his son. His only material possession, apart from some land and a small straw hut, was a horse he had inherited from his father.

"One day, the horse ran off, leaving the man with no animal with which to till the land. His neighbors - who respected him greatly for his honesty and diligence - came to his house to say how much they regretted what had happened. He thanked them for their visit, but asked: 'How can you know that what has happened has been a misfortune in my life?'

"Someone mumbled to a friend: 'He cannot accept reality, let him think what he wants, as long as he isn't saddened by what happened.' And the neighbors went off, pretending to agree with what they had heard.

"A week later, the horse returned to the stable, but it was not alone; it brought with it a fine mare for company. Upon hearing this, the villagers - who were flustered since they now understood the answer the man had given them - returned to the peasant's house in order to congratulate him on his good fortune. 'Before you had only one horse, and now you have two. Congratulations!' they said. But the peasant said, 'How can you know that what has happened has been a blessing in my life?'

"Disconcerted, and thinking he must be going mad, the neighbors went off, and on the way commented: 'Does he really not understand that God has sent him a gift?'

"A month later, the peasant's son decided to tame the mare. But the animal unexpectedly reared up and the boy fell and broke his leg. The neighbors returned to the peasant's house, bringing gifts for the wounded boy. The mayor of the village offered his condolences to the father, saying that all were very sad at what had happened.

"The man thanked them for their visit and their concern, but asked: 'How can you know that what has happened has been a misfortune in my life?'

"They were all astonished to hear this, since no one could be in any doubt that the accident of a son was a real tragedy. As they left the peasant's house, some said to others: 'He really has gone mad; his only son might limp forever, and he is still in doubt about whether what happened is a misfortune.'

"Some months passed, and Japan declared war on China. The Emperor's envoys traveled throughout the land in search for healthy young men to be sent to the battlefront. Upon arrival in the village, they recruited all the young men except the peasant's son, whose leg was broken.

"None of the young men returned alive. The son recovered, the two animals bred and their offspring were sold at a good price. The peasant began visiting his neighbors to console and help them, since they had at all times been so caring. Whenever one of them complained, the peasant said: 'How do you know it is a misfortune?' If anyone became overjoyed, he asked: 'How do you know it is a blessing?' And the men in that village understood that beyond appearances, life has other meanings."

Also, it has different meanings for different people. Imagine what a day it had been for the emperor's envoy. He arrived at a small village in a bad mood, and discovered that all but one of the young men there were eligible for service. Hooray! He did not know that they would all die or that he himself would be struck down in a terrible battle.

He thought he knew what the day meant, and it did mean that, until it didn't.

In which we learn the upbeat side of a crippled son and a missing horse.