We’ll See What Happens

By Celia Coates

We are living in a time filled with many uncertainties and the phrase – “We’ll see what happens,” – is one we hear often. This week’s post is a reprise of one published after the 2016 Presidential election when I wrote, “This week half the country is cheering and the other half is despairing.” Our country remains divided by opinions and emotions as strong as they were that November.

It’s not hard to know when we are experiencing misfortune but sometimes we double the misery by assuming that even more bad luck lies ahead. It’s easier when we assume it’s good luck that will continue, but that’s not any more realistic than predicting long streams of bad luck. It’s best to face both difficult and pleasant events straight on. Life flows, things change, and what was at first clearly bad – or good – 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.”

I am not a fan of the oblivious, empty denial of misfortune that forces cheerfulness. Nor do I think it’s a good idea to sit in the mud of despair, Both approaches can result in being unrealistic, ignorant, and passive. When we experience misfortune, after we have acknowledged and dealt with the losses, terrible disruptions, or grief – however long that might take – it is vital to become open to what else might happen. What openings might there be now? We also need to remain open to what might happen after “lucky” events. To be fully engaged in life, means taking an active role in seeing what will happen next. . . .

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