Next … ? After Trump’s Election

This week half the country is cheering and the other half despairing.

I’ve been saying for a long time that I was going to write something about one of my favorite ideas: “just the right wrong thing”. These words became a useful frame, a way for me to view and deal with some of the difficulties life brings. This week’s events make this a good time to finally sit down and write.

It’s not hard to know when we are experiencing misfortune. But then we cause ourselves added suffering when we make assumptions about what lies ahead. It’s best to face difficult events straight on, as much as possible in the present, without dismal forecasts. Life flows, things change, and what was at first clearly bad can turn into an opening for something quite different.

One of my favorite folk stories is so old that it has circled the world and shown up in different versions at different times. The first time I heard it, it was told about a poor farmer in China:

A farmer in China had no money but he was rich in wisdom. He owned a single horse that pulled his plow and hauled the wagon that took him to market. One day the farmer awoke to find that his horse had gone, leaving the gate open behind him. The farmer’s neighbors gathered to express their sympathy about his great loss.

The farmer said only, ‘We will see, we will see.’

Then one morning the farmer awoke to find that his horse had returned bringing with him five wild horses. The neighbors gathered again, this time in celebration.

The farmer said only, ‘We will see, we will see.’

The farmer’s son tried to ride one of the wild horses but he was thrown from its back and he broke his leg. The neighbors gathered again around this bad fortune.

The farmer said only, ‘We will see, we will see.’

A week later a marauding warrior came through their land forcing all the strong young men to go with him to fight his battles, but he didn’t take the son because of his broken leg. The neighbors gathered again to celebrate this lucky escape.

The farmer said only, ‘We will see, we will see.’

The next version of the story was one told about two English shepherds:

Two shepherds who had not seen each other in a while met by chance at a market and one asked the other how he was. The second answered that he was not doing very well and had married since they last met.

The first shepherd said, “But that is very good news.”

The second said, “Not so very good neither, for I married a shrew.”

The first, “Indeed, that is bad news.”

The second, “Not so very bad, for she was rich with two hundred pounds.”

The first, “That is well again.”

The second, “Not so very good neither, for I laid it out in sheep and they all died of the rot.”

The first, “That was very hard luck.”

The second, “Not so hard, neither, for I sold the skins for more than the sheep cost me.”

The first, “That was a good gain, indeed.”

The second, “Not so good a gain for I laid out the money in a house and it burned down.”

The first, “That was a great loss indeed.”

The second, “Not so great a loss neither, for my wife was burned in it.”

It helps to remember that when we are faced with a very difficult wrong thing, we can’t really know what’s going to happen next. I’m not suggesting that we become “Polyannas” who make themselves simply glad about everything – but perhaps that is now such an old-fashioned children’s book that you haven’t read her story. I am not a fan of oblivious and empty denial that forces an unrealistic cheerfulness. The word “wrong” must not be taken out of “just the right wrong thing”. But when we experience misfortune, after we have acknowledged and dealt with the losses, terrible disruptions, and grief – however long that might take – it is vital to become open to what else might happen. What openings might have been caused by this wrong thing? The right wrong thing can help us to refocus, to see and choose new possibilities.

What’s next …… ?

(The second post about Alvin Schwartz’s experiences with Superman which was to have been published here, will appear next week.)

 

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Judith Sellers says:

    Reading these stories is an effective anti-depressant. Being reminded that ‘bad’ won’t last forever puts the election, and other ‘problems’, in perspective. They are also just funny enough to connect us to each other.

  2. Wotring Anne says:

    Another Home Run, Celia!!!

  3. Trudy Summers says:

    A ray of hope…and much needed right now.

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