Monday, October 17, 2011

Maybe It Is . . . and Maybe It Isn't

Awhile back, I was feeling disappointed and discouraged; something hadn’t gone the way I’d hoped. (I don’t even remember what it was now.) My brother told me a story that made a strong impression on me. I was curious as to the origin of the story so I looked it up; it’s actually a parable from the book of Job, which I believe we can apply to our lives and our writing careers. I’d like to share this story with you.

There was an old man who lived in a tiny village. The man was poor but he was envied by the other villagers because he owned a beautiful white horse. The villagers encouraged him to sell the horse so he’d have some money but he refused. One morning, he discovered that the horse was not in the stable. The villagers all told him that he was a fool for not having sold it; that the horse was stolen and it was a curse. The old man replied, “Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.  We only have a fragment; only God sees the whole picture.”

Then, one day, the horse returned and brought with it a dozen wild horses. Evidently it had not been stolen; it had run away. The villagers told the old man, “You were right. What we thought was a curse, was a blessing.” Once again, the old man told them, “Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.”

The old man had a son who began to train the wild horses so that his father could sell them but he fell from one of the horses and broke both of his legs. The villagers said to the old man, “You proved we were wrong. You are still poor and your only son will not be able to help you now. The dozen horses were a curse.” “Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t,” the old man said.

A few weeks later, war broke out in the country. All young men in the village were required to join the army. Only the son of the old man was excluded, because he was injured. The villagers gathered around the old man, crying and screaming, “You were right. Your son’s accident was a blessing. Our sons will probably be killed but at least he is with you.” The old man finally told them, “It is impossible to talk with you. You always make judgments. You read only one page of a book. How can you judge the whole book? No one knows if something is a blessing or a curse. Only God knows.”


  1. Wonderful story, Patricia, and you told it well. It reminds me of some of the wisdom to be found in Fiddler on the Roof.

  2. Thank you for reminding me of this old story, Patricia. I had heard it came from China. Perhaps it is a somewhat universal story. Shall we, tongue in cheek, ascribe it to Jung and his idea of collective unconscious?

    Every time things go wrong in my life, i.e., not the way I had planned them, I stop to consider that 1. the unexpected turn is meant to be a lesson and 2. someone, beyond my human ability, is watching out for me.

    Somehow, I was lucky enough to sense this even as a young girl. I am grateful.

    Marta Chausée, author
    Resort to Murder, a Maya French Mystery

  3. John and Marta,
    Thanks for your comments.
    I believe that, if we remember the lesson in this parable, life can be a lot easier and we can be much happier. Now, for the difficult part (at least for me) - applying the lesson!

  4. Thank you for reminding me of that story, Paticia. It's so very true. We, including me, do way too much judging. Since I don't like to be judged, maybe I'd better quit doing that. :)

    Marja McGraw

  5. I think Marta may be right about this being a universal story. I've heard slightly different versions from an old rabbi and a Zen priest. The wisdom remains the same.

  6. Yes, Marta, we should all try to stop judging. And, J.R., no matter where it originated, it is definitely a "universal" story.

  7. Patricia, thank you for this remembrance, even though I try not to think in terms of curse, I called them 'not ready for the blessings.'augie

  8. Augie,
    I love that, "not ready for the blessings." Thanks!

  9. Thanks for the reminder. I'm usually ready to jump to judgment when things seem bleak. These stories remind of us that the screen only holds a fixed portion of an entire vista.

  10. That's true, Theresa. And, as Augie mentioned, if we're not ready for the blessings, they won't come. So, I think, we need to do our part to be worthy of those blessings and ready to receive them. "If you'll do what you can, then God will do what you can't." I've seen that happen many times in my life.