The fertilizer of our lives; Who ordered this truckload of dung?

Two neighbours both moved into gorgeous country houses adjacent to a popular walk and bridleway.  It was a lovely environment. Open feilds, a sea view, pretty trees and cute wildlife. After a few days they began to notice that walking horses would foul the pathway outside their respective homes.

Over time, one of the neighbours found it hard to make friends and people often avoided him.  Whereas the other neighbour was popular and had no problem making friends.

Furthermore, the already popular neighbour began to grow his garden and soon his garden was producing lots of beautiful produce.  So much that he left it in crates on the path for the local walkers to help themselves.

The unpopular neighbour began asking people what he was doing wrong, but they would cut short the conversations, often curling their noses while walking away.

What was he doing wrong?


The answer: He was collecting the dung from the path and putting it into his pocket. He had no idea what to do with it and would often carry it for too long. Furthermore, in his attempt to avoid the dung, he would complain to people passing, cautioning them and sometimes even accusing them of fouling the pathway.

The other, wiser neighbour, was simply using the dung to fertilise his garden.


What do we carrying around that makes us stink?  Do you carry your complaints? Your grumbles? Your injustices? Do they make you unpleasant to be around?

Wouldn’t it be wiser to use the events of our lives to fertilize the garden of our being?

We can transform the bad in our lives and even grow from it. 


Credit for this story goes to Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Brahm (who ordered this truckload of dung) and Chogyam Trungpa (The manure of life and the field of Bodhi).


Peace and love

 

 

 

 

 

Acceptance like a Zen master; Is that so

There was a Zen master who lived a peaceful, illuminated life of acceptance.   He was a source of wisdom for the local community.  Within the community, there was a respected family with one daughter of 18 years age.

The daughter was pregnant and soon her belly became too large to conceal.  Her enraged father demanded to know who was responsible.  Initially the daughter resisted telling but eventually in tears muttered the name of the Zen master.  The father stormed to the house of the Zen master and confronted him, “You have fathered a child with my young daughter, you swine!”  The Zen master replied “Is that so”.

Her baby was born a few weeks later; a healthy boy.  Her father immediately took the child and gave it to the Zen master shouting, ‘Here! it’s your child! you look after it”. The Zen master replied, “Is that so”.

A year later the daughter confessed to her family that the father was actually a handsome young man who worked at the local baker store.  The father returned to the Zen master, he explained the huge error.  The Zen master replied, “Is that so” and handed the baby back to the father.


The Zen master was able to accept all manner of circumstance without feeling a need for complaint or objection.  Can we do the same?


I try to remember this story throughout the challenges of life.  Sometimes facing a situation, an attack in words, or some other circumstance.  I try to find the space to stop and say “is that so” and in doing so try to avoid the need to complain or wish otherwise.

A word of caution, however, some people will react with more hostility if you speak, “is that so”.  So I often find its better to just think it without muttering the words.

 

 

 

Enjoying the honey in the midst of adversity

This is the fourth tale in a series of classic old stories I am posting throughout December, told pretty much as they have been for generations.


Many years ago,  a wise man encountered a hungry tiger while walking through the jungle back to his village. The man immediately began to run and the tiger gave chase.

After a few steps, he recalled a dried up well which was quite fortunately just a few steps further down the path.  He sprinted for the well and quickly dived into it.

However, as he was falling downward he heard a hiss.  Alarmed he quickly reached out a hand and grabbed at the sides of the well.  Luckily his had caught an overgrowing root and he was able to stop his fall.

He looked downwards and saw a huge hungry snake at the bottom of the dried up well. He looked up and saw the tiger peering over the edge of the well.  He hung for a minute or two before his situation got worse.  A small rat appeared from a hole in the wall of the well and it began to chew at the root.

The root soon began to fray.

Meanwhile, the tiger was reaching into the well.  In doing so, its feet were pushing against a nearby tree for purchase. causing it to sway.  The swaying motion of the tree caused a drop of honey to fall down the well from an overhanging bee hive.

The snake continued to hiss, the tiger continued to push, the mouse kept chewing through the root, the tree kept swaying and the beehive kept dripping honey into the well.

The man extended his tongue and caught some honey.

mmmm, honey”, he thought.


Life can throw us so much adversity.   Can you still enjoy the drops of honey that fall even during adversity?

Two monks carrying a burden

An older and a younger monk are walking back to their monastery when they notice a young woman passed out in the middle of a busy road.

The older monk tries to rouse her without response, before finally picking her up and carrying her from the road to safety.  He manages to wake her and set her safely on her way.  The younger monk is shocked and could not believe what he had seen happen.

They walk in silence for an hour, two hours, three then four before finally the younger monk can no longer suppress his feelings and says “You should not have picked up that girl, we are not allowed to handle women.”  The other monk responds, “are you still carrying her? I put her down hours ago.”


What burden do you carry in the mind long after it ceased to exist?

Enter Zen from there; A simple Zen story of how to find peace

A learning student of Zen practice was out for a stroll with a more experienced teacher. They walked through the mountains near their accommodation.  Majestic views, a cool evening, everything so calm, truly a blissful environment to walk.

After some time the student said to his friend, “I am trying to find Zen* but I keep thinking about where best to begin and how to do it”.

They continue walking for a few minutes. The student, lost now in further worry, begins to think his friend might not have heard the remark.  He opens his mouth to speak again when his teacher comments. “Do you hear the steam? Enter Zen from there.”

The student listens for a minute or two, paying attention until he eventually hears the sound of a distant stream.  “Satori”** He realised something he could not express.

They continue walking and for the first time the student experiences all there is around him.  After some time however, his mind intrudes upon this peace.  He asks his teacher, “What would you have said if I could not hear the stream? If I heard or saw something else?” 

His teacher responds, “Enter Zen from there.”


We can choose to enter mindful alertness and find peace at any time using anything. I find myself guilty of demanding the ‘right’ circumstances sometimes.  But, we can instead just choose to be alert and alive to the unfolding moments.  Don’t let the mind make excuses or conjure layers of complexity.

We can enter Zen from anywhere!


*Zen – Something words cannot describe, but perhaps the state of completeness with the universe, mindfulness, alertness, presence.

**Satori – A sudden realisation or enlightenment.

zenmountainquote

Sign posts to the moon

A young spiritual learner was out for a walk with a wise old master and his dog. The evening was peaceful and cool. They walked in silence.

After some time the novice says to the wise master, “I have been learning various spiritual teachings on meditation and mindfulness”.

The master nods his head.

The novice then confesses that he has recently become lost with meditation.  That the more he studies, the more lost he becomes.  The various teachings say different things.  So  now, he does not know what to do anymore.

“Wise master”, he asks.  “Do I look at the tip of my nose? or do I close my eyes? do I sit or stand? please tell me which approach is best and end this confusion”.

The master smiles. He the points to the moon and commands his dog to look at the moon. The dog simply stares at his pointing finger.

The master then explains, “Words are conceptualisation and are merely pointers to something beyond; do not focus on the pointing fingers or you will never find the moon”.

 

-x-

“All words about spiritual values are just hints. Don’t hold onto the words as if they are realities. They are hints, almost the way I can point to the moon with my finger – but don’t catch hold of my finger. My finger is not the moon. Although my finger was pointing to the moon, it was only a hint.”

Zarathustra: A God That Can Dance

Toshidama Gallery
Toshidama Gallery

 

Case dismissed; non-judgemental thinking

Please preside as judge and juror of this familiar scene from life. A scene that we can all probably relate to and yet something that is quite revealing of ourselves.

The scene begins at around 9:30am on a weekday morning, it was a really warm day for southern England in July (around 30 degrees), the day had a spotless blue sky, it was school summer holidays and the coffee shop was near the coast. The object of this scene was a parent sat at a table in a local coffee shop, a man who looked in his early thirties. A man who was seemingly buried in his iPad. He had two young children with him, a girl of probably 8 years and a boy around 6 years. Like him, they were also buried in technology watching some YouTube video. They did not really talk much or engage.

A judgement seemed fairly obvious to me and my gavel fell sharply as I made my verdict, ‘What a bad and dysfunctional family they must be.’ But wait! The man was me, I was the parent and they were my kids, and we are far from dysfunctional.

This occasion got me thinking about how quick we make judgements of others, how quick I am to judge and that if I had witnessed myself in similar circumstances, then perhaps I would have judged myself poorly. Perhaps I was being overly sensitive, but a few people queuing casually glanced at me and my offspring with cold looks of disapproval. We were definitely disheveled, unbrushed hair and dressed in shorts and t-shirts, me included.

The reality was, we were camping in a nearby eco-ish campsite, secluded in the woods, we had no internet nor power for technology. I confess to needed a morning coffee, of that I am guilty, so this coffee shop served a dual purpose of letting me have my coffee and my darlings could have 45 minutes on their beloved DanDTM or clumsy ninja before we had our full day of activity. We were having a wonderful family time, just the three of us. We had been to a theme park and made campfire food the day before; as Londoners it was great for them to experience the rawness of camping a bit wild. The day in question we were going to an adventure centre then the beach. All rare experiences for my big city dwellers. These 45 minutes were but a brief moment and a tiny piece of civilisation for us all.

So the reality was very far from the perception. For all the world we must have looked dysfunctional, on a gorgeous day, away in a pretty town, a parent and two children, lost in technology. On a bad day, I might have made that judgement myself.

What I took from this little moment was that I should not judge people too quickly. I should probably not judge at all as its nearly impossible to know a thing from a brief encounter. All I can really know from meeting a situation is my prejudice and preconceptions about the situation, never the situation as it is. Giving time and space might allow the situation to reveal itself but more than likely it will just pass away and I will be left none the wiser about the nature of the situation. So, since I cannot accurately judge what I cannot know I will make more of an effort not to judge things so fast, but to let them unfold if the choose or simply blow away in the wind as a mystery.

So why not join me with a goal to practice non-judgement a little more? It involves putting our judgemental thoughts aside in a situation and finding a peaceful spaciousness to just witness events. Even if it’s just once or twice a day, it’s a little practice towards a more open and objectively real world.

Freud’s requiem and the joy of transience

This writing is a translation of an original short essay written by Sigmund Freud in November 1915. It’s often referred to as his ‘Requiem’ (an act or token of remembrance) and is quite a positive outlook on the true nature of our existence.

I came across this writing during one of the darkest moments of my life and I offer it as a crutch to everyone else.

Enjoy!

On Transience, By Sigmund Freud (Novemeber, 1915)
Translation by James Strachey

Not long ago I went on a summer walk through a smiling countryside in the company of a taciturn friend and of a young but already famous poet. The poet admired the beauty of the scene around us but felt no joy in it. He was disturbed by the thought that all this beauty was fated to extinction, that it would vanish when winter came, like all human beauty and all the beauty and splendour that men have created or may create. All that he would otherwise have loved and admired seemed to him to be shorn of its worth by the transience which was its doom.

The proneness to decay of all that is beautiful and perfect can, as we know, give rise to two different impulses in the mind. The one leads to the aching despondency felt by the young poet, while the other leads to rebellion against the fact asserted. No! it is impossible that all this loveliness of Nature and Art, of the world of our sensations and of the world outside, will really fade away into nothing. It would be too senseless and too presumptuous to believe it. Somehow or other this loveliness must be able to persist and to escape all the powers of destruction.

But this demand for immortality is a product of our wishes too unmistakable to lay claim to reality: what is painful may none the less be true. I could not see my way to dispute the transience of all things, nor could I insist upon an exception in favour of what is beautiful and perfect. But I did dispute the pessimistic poet’s view that the transience of what is beautiful involves any loss in its worth.

On the contrary, an increase! Transience value is scarcity value in time. Limitation in the possibility of an enjoyment raises the value of the enjoyment. It was incomprehensible, I declared, that the thought of the transience of beauty should interfere with our joy in it. As regards the beauty of Nature, each time it is destroyed by winter it comes again next year, so that in relation to the length of our lives it can in fact be regarded as eternal. The beauty of the human form and face vanish for ever in the course of our own lives, but their evanescence only lends them a fresh charm. A flower that blossoms only for a single night does not seem to us on that account less lovely. Nor can I understand any better why the beauty and perfection of a work of art or of an intellectual achievement should lose its worth because of its temporal limitation. A time may indeed come when the pictures and statues which we admire to-day will crumble to dust, or a race of men may follow us who no longer understand the works of our poets and thinkers, or a geological epoch may even arrive when all animate life upon the earth ceases; but since the value of all this beauty and perfection is determined only by its significance for our own emotional lives, it has no need to survive us and is therefore independent of absolute duration.

These considerations appeared to me incontestable; but I noticed that I had made no impression either upon the poet or upon my friend. My failure led me to infer that some powerful emotional factor was at work which was disturbing their judgement, and I believed later that I had discovered what it was. What spoilt their enjoyment of beauty must have been a revolt in their minds against mourning. The idea that all this beauty was transient was giving these two sensitive minds a foretaste of mourning over its decease; and, since the mind instinctively recoils from anything that is painful, they felt their enjoyment of beauty interfered with by thoughts of its transience.

Mourning over the loss of something that we have loved or admired seems so natural to the layman that he regards it as self-evident. But to psychologists mourning is a great riddle, one of those phenomena which cannot themselves be explained but to which other obscurities can be traced back. We possess, as it seems, a certain amount of capacity for love—what we call libido—which in the earliest stages of development is directed towards our own ego. Later, though still at a very early time, this libido is diverted from the ego on to objects, which are thus in a sense taken into our ego. If the objects are destroyed or if they are lost to us, our capacity for love (our libido) is once more liberated; and it can then either take other objects instead or can temporarily return to the ego. But why it is that this detachment of libido from its objects should be such a painful process is a mystery to us and we have not hitherto been able to frame any hypothesis to account for it. We only see that libido clings to its objects and will not renounce those that are lost even when a substitute lies ready to hand. Such then is mourning.

My conversation with the poet took place in the summer before the war. A year later the war broke out and robbed the world of its beauties. It destroyed not only the beauty of the countrysides through which it passed and the works of art which it met with on its path but it also shattered our pride in the achievements of our civilization, our admiration for many philosophers and artists and our hopes of a final triumph over the differences between nations and races. It tarnished the lofty impartiality of our science, it revealed our instincts in all their nakedness and let loose the evil spirits within us which we thought had been tamed for ever by centuries of continuous education by the noblest minds. It made our country small again and made the rest of the world far remote. It robbed us of very much that we had loved, and showed us how ephemeral were many things that we had regarded as changeless.

We cannot be surprised that our libido, thus bereft of so many of its objects, has clung with all the greater intensity to what is left to us, that our love of our country, our affection for those nearest us and our pride in what is common to us have suddenly grown stronger. But have those other possessions, which we have now lost, really ceased to have any worth for us because they have proved so perishable and so unresistant? To many of us this seems to be so, but once more wrongly, in my view. I believe that those who think thus, and seem ready to make a permanent renunciation because what was precious has proved not to be lasting, are simply in a state of mourning for what is Lost. Mourning, as we know, however painful it may be comes to a spontaneous end. When it has renounced everything that has been lost, then it has consumed itself, and our libido is once more free (in so far as we are still young and active) to replace the lost objects by fresh ones equally or still more precious. It is to be hoped that the same will be true of the losses caused by this war. When once the mourning is over, it will be found that our high opinion of the riches of civilization has lost nothing from our discovery of their fragility. We shall build up again all that war has destroyed, and perhaps on firmer ground and more lastingly than before.

Giving freely, confidence and human expression

Do you consider yourself a generous person? You give to charity, help friends and colleagues out when they get into trouble?  If so, that’s good, but let’s not shelve a consideration of generosity just yet.  Let’s dig a bit deeper first. 

What does giving really mean?

Europe has had a refugee crisis for years yet all our politicians talk about is what we can ‘afford’ to do; ‘How many people can we afford to take to our shores?’  Don’t worry, this is not a political post, but I want to make this point.  In the UK our leaders have decided on a little quota of refugees that we can take; ‘little’ as they do not want to inconvenience existing British society. Heaven forbid anyone should have to wait longer for their medical treatment on account of some ill people from foreign shores. This highlights such a lack of generosity, something that feels to me like a King throwing his scraps from the table to the poor.

Now, I admit my faults in this too. A major part of this blog and these posts are about me figuring out how best to think about things in my life so I can form them into something approaching coherence which can then guide how I operate in the world.  And upon reflection, I definitely confess to having been the King at the table who has very often only spared that which can be spared.  

However, I will stand up now and make my statement; ‘Hello my name is Simon and I confess to clinging too much to my possessions, my thoughts, myself and in fact nearly everything I value’.  I vow to do better. In fact, I want to put forward a discussion of giving as a vital part of human expression that can uplift our existence. A giving that manifests as the opposite of sacrifice but rather as an expression of my being, my confidence, and my freedom.

Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous. Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.
Erich Fromm
Letting go

Sadly for me, it took a total life crisis and the loss of much of importance to really see that grasping and clinging to things was not actually providing the satisfaction that I thought it would.  You see, this clinging feeling came from a fundamental base of insufficiency. I had this underlying feeling that I never had enough, so I could spare little.  My satisfaction was firmly rooted in the belief that happiness stemmed from the stuff in my life, my possessions, my thoughts, my time, my partner and myself. Ultimately though, the clinging generated a constant feeling of tension and stress. There was this underlying worry about either ‘how to get more’ or ‘how to not lose what had’.  Breaking down this mentality not only made me less tense but also opened up my world  to a freer generosity.

This is not exactly a new insight, the Greek philosopher Epicurus (crica 300 BC) stated:

If thou wilt make a man happy, add not unto his riches but take away from his desires.
Epicurus
 So what brought this change about for me?

In short, having children and a major life crisis (Link to my post about finding emptiness). My children gave me a very interesting opening into what it means to give in the truest sense. With my children, I know that they will leave me, they will one day go their own way, they will be independent and yet I still have this strong desire to give to them.  In fact, parents stand up! Let’s be honest, our little darlings don’t very often thank us for what we give yet there is still this deep sense of satisfaction in giving to them.

A good example for me is the lovely warm satisfaction and delight of watching them eat. They are simply sat at the table scoffing down the dinner but I love it, all of it, they way they roll into the kitchen with the swagger of  royalty, then the sight of them in their chairs, heads down, plate of food in front of them, dessert to their left, fruit smoothie front and right, them contented, a little bliss for me as a parent and a pure gift from me to them. I look at them in these moments and think, bless you, enjoy my darlings.

Even if you do not have children I am sure you have had similar feelings with ‘feeding’.  Perhaps with animals, throwing bread or seeds to birds in a park, feeding seagulls at the beach or animals at the zoo.

This kind of giving is an expression of love in a true sense and that’s something that I find myself searching for in life.  It’s giving without receiving, it’s a loss of time, money, energy with no return compensation, except that inner joy that giving can generate.  You might say, ‘but they give you love back?’  They do, yes, but like the animal in the park, they are ultimately destined to leave and live their lives. So there is also a touch of transcending the false notion of permanence;  giving knowing something will not last is all about a pure moment of human expression of the truth of reality. The notion that ‘I know it will not be mine – but I do it anyway out of love for it’ And it’s that feeling of giving regardless, a feeling that I found through my children (thank-you darlings) that prompted an expansion of generosity into other areas of my life.

Mother Teressa reportedly had a version of  Kent Kieth’s ‘Paradoxical Commandments’ on the wall of her orphanage in Calcutta which summarizes this notion so very beautifully:

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

Getting back to the issue of children and/or romantic partners it’s worth mentioning that a clandestine style of giving is not exactly the notion. One aspect of generosity when limited exclusively to close partners, is that generosity might be something of a false dawn. Erich Fromm commented that some romantic relationships can lead to the formation of a joint self (aka a joint ego).  In this mode, the self-view expands to encompass the other into oneself. A partnership becomes one but is still very much disjoint from the outside word. This could extend to families which become one unit but are essentially hostile and defensive to the outside world. Fromm wrote about this as ‘Egoisme a deux’ – the ego of two. So in that sense, giving and loving is not really achieved with another as the other is simply subsumed into the self – the ego of two. This notion could be extended further  into insular organizations, be that groups of friends with no generosity for those outside the group, religion, societies and even to countries.

So what caused this ‘stinginess’ in life?

I think most of my life, and life in general, involves trading not giving. Take romantic relationships as an example, in some way there is this need for something, I cook dinner, I get thanked. I stay at home and watch the kids so my partner could go out, she reciprocates. I love you, so you love me. All goes well until someone perceives that they are not getting their slice of the cake. At this point, they might begin to feel unappreciated or even abused in the relationship. They might ask, ‘Why am I the one doing all the giving?’

The problem is that in most of our lives, we trade, we don’t give and this certainly carries into our supposed love relationships too.  Trade is the transfer of something in return for something, the transfer of money, time, goodwill and anything else that can be bartered and exchanged for something.  Perhaps receiving in return, money, time, thanks, goodwill, future favors, good behavior and ‘love’.

Trade has become such a central part of the subconscious of Western life that it is embedded in the fabric of nearly every transaction we make with others in the world. Western society values good trades, the so-called ‘clever man’ is able to trade profitably, he gives away less than he receives.  Conversely, only ‘a fool’ gives away things for less than their worth, be that time, love, money, etc.

What a fool l am now, and what a glad fool

At many points in my life, I have felt ashamed to give freely to others. I have also had to explain why I am giving something away. Western society actually made me feel wrong for doing something out of compassion. This does not necessarily or solely include possessions, money or effort, on a more intimate level, ‘giving’ love can be a challenge.

But giving – by definition – involves the loss of something. This might sound severe as the act of giving generates such an inner pleasure, but the point I am trying to make is that to truly give, is to give without any expectation in return and that involves parting with something.  However, there is some inner gain as it feels like a liberation and freedom.  Free because giving does not make any demands that require judgement of value (nothing is expected to be returned therefore there is no weighing of its merit). It’s simply an act without the judgment, even on the part of yourself, except perhaps that you feel it might brings something good to another. So it’s a moment of freedom and letting go.

So how about giving oneself?

Can we be open, free and remove the armor that shields our emotions and protects our egos? I think for many people, myself included, interactions between people can involve a certain shyness because someone is afraid to give themselves. Ultimately I think this comes from needing something in return? From looking for the trade, perhaps some approval?  ‘Shall I smile – oh wait I cannot smile at this person as they may not smile back’.

Giving without any expectation of anything in return liberates this tension since nothing is expected in return, there is no fear of rejection and as such, there is a sense of total freedom. I will smile at you, I will talk to you, I will help you, I will love you. I don’t worry about it being returned – it’s a gift.  Living like this brings about freedom.  It’s like the joy of throwing a stone into the sea, watching them fly freely through the air before disappearing beneath the water. Thrown and gone.  Being free with yourself is a similar feeling, your speech and deeds fly freely with no grand purpose, you will not get them back once you let them fly, but neither do you need to. 

Finally, the notion of giving can itself become superfluous. Since giving is predicated on relinquishing ‘something’ owned – something held personally – if there were nothing owned or held then there would be nothing to give.  I believe this is the super human consciousness of enlightened beings and Buddhist monks.  And it’s something that seems so beautiful and peaceful.  Something that my musing here have, in some way, enabled me to at least touch;  the beautiful notion of what it must be like to let go completely and therefore have everything to give and nothing to lose.  What a beautiful and free loving place to be.

Peace.

Living free; shedding the good and bad labels

Life is full of events that at the time can seem like a disaster or a triumph.  However, we never really know whether an event will have some long term good or hurt; perhaps not until the fullness of time has passed. This is my take on another old story.  Just as before (see a short story of simplicity) I will not add much commentary but let the concept of the story speak. Enjoy.

—–

When I was in my forties I was a single parent, with two children and struggling with finances. After breakfast one morning I received a letter with some photographs. The pictures were of a charming looking log cottage in the hills facing the sea. It looked beautiful, surrounded back and sides by tall pine trees and secluded; what a lovely house I thought. The final picture was of an unfamiliar old man. After dwelling on the photos I read the letter. My heart raced as I saw the words, apparently a distant relative had died and as their only living relative they had left me the house in the pictures. A dream home I thought and potentially a new start for me and my kids. I was so happy, what luck, I felt so elated.

Now, at this time, my best friend had just returned from a long trip to Asia. He was a bit of a hippie at heart and just suffered a marriage breakup, so he had jacked in his job to travel for a year. I had invited him over for a meal tonight and now had this wonderful news to share. So later that day, with the meal served on the table, my best friend sat next to me, I made a toast to life and told him the good news. His reaction though quickly wiped the big smile from my face – he just shrugged his shoulders, smiled and said “could be good, could be bad, who knows” and changed the subject to the meal we were eating. People can be strange I thought, perhaps he was jealous or perhaps he was sad I would be leaving, eitherway, I was still happy about the situation. We ate and had a pleasant dinner together.

Time passed quickly, I relinquished my rental property, organised removals, planned new schools for the children – thankfully it was summer – and even had a new job lined up for myself to start the week after the move. Everything was going perfect, until the day of the move. Carrying a heavy box up the stairs in my dream home, I slipped and the box fell with me underneath it. The result was a broken leg and me in hospital, the prognosis of a wheel chair for a while. Damn my luck I thought, how stupid of me to attempt to lift such a heavy box up the stairs, now all those plans could falter. I was distraught.

I was so sad, everything was now going wrong just as it looked to be going right. I lamented my fortune to my friend, explaining how I must be cursed to receive this event at such a time. His reaction, “Good, bad, who knows” and a change of subject back to practical matters. Hmmm, perhaps his trip had done funny things to his mind? I wanted both him and my children close, so offered for him to babysit my two kids in my new home.   However, whilst he agreed to look after my children he had an important job interview the next day so he would have to take them back with him tonight.  He promised to return at the weekend.

The next day he called me with then news that he had failed his interview and would be driving back to visit me earlier than planned.  What a waste of time it was for him to return for the interview I thought.  I tried to console him but he just said, “it could be good, could be bad, who knows”.

Another day passed, it was now the second day since my hospitalisation.  That morning I woke to a blaring loud television in my hospital room.  News reporters were giving briefings of an ongoing disaster, aparently there had been some kind of fire, scores of people were dead, helicopters were battling a blaze.  The fire was in the hills. Gradually, like a bad dream, the realisation hit me.  These images were the same hills as my new home. Sure enough, later that day, I received news that my new home had been burnt to the ground.

When my friend came to visit. He came in smiling and pointing at my legs. By this time I had lost my patience and shouted, “I have lost my new house, broken my leg and all you can do is laugh, what’s wrong with you!” He smiled gently and said, “good, bad”, but this time I would not let him finish, so I interrupted and shouted again, “What is it with you and this damn expression?” He sat gently next to me, grabbed my hand with tenderness and said, “My beloved friend, if you had not broken your leg, you would have been in that house with your children and you likely would have all be dead.”  Finally, I understood, took his hand and said, “and thank goodness you had a job interview, otherwise it would have been you dead instead”.

—–

I love the concept of this short story, it affects my thinking constantly. Often I find myself ‘suffering’ some event that seems negative and unfair but now I try to think to myself, wait, let’s see what happens, perhaps this might turn out to be a blessing rather than a curse.  Likewise something seemingly wonderful might turn out to be not quite the godsend it first appeared.

We just do not know the fullness of the story of life to make a judgement about events. Even a major crisis like a depression, while devastating at the time, can in the fullness of time transpire to be the birth of something unforseen and wonderful.

Peace and love.

PS If you like a happy ending, perhaps we could add I had insurance against fire. However, since we are all connected in this world, that’s good for me but bad for others who pay the insurance premiums (see A pie for an eye), but since they are also connected to me, they should be happy that we are all safer from having security.