My children are my best teachers. Having been in quarantine, in isolation, and cohabitating with them now for what is going on four months, I truly appreciate their perspective and ability to suspend judgment. My son was quick to cite “The Parable of the Horse” back in March and it has served as a reminder to just do our best with what life has handed us.
The old Taoist story goes something like this:
A farmer worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. But the farmer replied, “Who knows what’s good and what’s bad.”
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “Who knows what’s good and what’s bad,” replied the farmer.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Who knows what’s good and what’s bad,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Who knows what’s good and what’s bad,” said the farmer.
The lesson is that assigning meaning to everything invites suffering. It’s better to suspend judgment until we know (that’s assuming we’ll ever really know) what there is to be thankful for and what is inconsequential.
Sometime in March, while my sons were abandoning their apartments and offices and my daughter was leaving her college campus, I heard Bill Gates say that he believed there was a spiritual reason in the universe for why things unfold as they do. That made me pause. I wouldn’t have expected a statement like that to come from him. I, along with millions of others, started practicing deep breathing and taking walks in order to not let the worry eat a hole in my stomach.
Although there have been moments when acceptance of the situation has been very hard, there’s the fact that my immediate family was together to mourn the passing of my father-in-law, and that my husband, who usually is flying around the globe for work, was able to sit in his grief without distraction. Maybe an unfortunate accident awaited our daughter on her college campus, maybe having the boys out of New York City kept them clear of an awful fall or over-exhaustion. There has certainly been the silver lining of us being able to spend time together and slowing down to really experience nature as the spring came into bloom.
Then there’s the fact that we were about to take a big, expensive vacation to celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary, when what our marriage likely really needed was for us to be teammates again, staring down a crisis and remembering how good we are at taking care of each other.
I think about the AA mantra that it takes hitting rock bottom before recovery can begin. I believe the brutal killing of George Floyd and other Black citizens at the hands of law enforcement is just about as rock bottom as it gets. I believe the horrible lack of leadership on display by our President is just about as rock bottom as it gets as well. And maybe this stand-still was what was required for our society to have this awful look in the mirror and finally admit we have a serious problem. Maybe this is what was required for people to finally stand up against the status quo.
I don’t want to say that any loss of life is ‘for a reason;’ each life was somebody’s mother or father, sister or brother, son or daughter.…. But if we can assign some greater purpose to this moment, it might reduce the pain. Can we as a society, come together, be better, do better? What if we all faced our racism and wore face masks out of love for our fellow man? Wouldn’t that be a start?
There are huge forces at work out in the world right now and I have lost patience with frivolity and pettiness. At the beginning of quarantine, I passed the time (numbed my brain) with bad tv. Now I have no patience for bad tv. I have no patience for waste and pollution either. I have no patience for selfish acts. There is more than an economy that wants to re-open. I hope our hearts are preparing for a grand re-opening too. If one person at a time took responsibility, if one day at a time, we did better… Our best today, better tomorrow — maybe that is what the recovery is supposed to look like.