There was an old man who lived in a tiny village. Although poor, he was envied by all for the beautiful white horse he owned. Even the king coveted his treasure. People offered fabulous prices for the steed, but the old man always refused. "This horse is not a horse to me," he would tell them. "It is a person. How could you sell a person? He is a friend, not a possession. How could you sell a friend?" The man was poor and the temptation was great, but he never sold the horse.
One morning, the horse was missing from the stable. All the village came to see the old man. "You old fool" they scoffed. "We told you that someone would steal your horse. You are so poor, how could you ever hope to protect such a valuable animal? It would have been better to have sold him. You could have gotten whatever price you wanted. Now the horse is gone, and you've been cursed with misfortune."
The old man responded, "Don't speak so quickly. Say only that the horse is not in the stable. That is all we know, the rest is judgment. How can you know if I've been cursed or not? How can you judge?
The people contested. "Don't make us out to be fools! We may not be philosophers, but great philosophy is not needed to know what's happened here. The fact that your horse is gone is a curse."
The old man spoke again, "All that I know is that the stable is empty and the horse is gone. The rest I don't know. Whether it be a curse or a blessing, I can't say. All we can see is a fragment. Who can say what will come next?
The people of the village laughed. They had always thought the man to be a fool; if he wasn't he would have sold the horse and lived off the money. Instead he was a poor woodcutter, living hand to mouth in the misery of poverty. Now he had proven that he was, indeed, a fool.
After 15 days the horse returned. He hadn't been stolen, he had run away into the forest. Not only had he returned, he had brought a dozen wild horses with him. Once again the village people gathered round the woodcutter and spoke, "Old man you were right and we were wrong. What we thought was a curse was really a blessing. Please forgive us."
The man responded "Again you go too far. Say only that the horse is back. State only that a dozen horses returned with him, but don't judge. How do you know if this is a blessing or not? You see only a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge. If you read only one page, how can you judge the whole book? All you have is a fragment! Don't say that this is a blessing. No one knows. I am content with what I know, I am not perturbed by what I don't know.
"Maybe the old man is right." they said.. But deep down they believed he was wrong. They knew it was a blessing. Twelve wild horses had returned with the horse. With a little bit of work the animals could be broken and trained and sold for much money.
The old man had a son, an only son. The young man began to break the wild horses. After a few days, he fell from one of the horses and broke both legs. Once again the villagers gathered around the old man and cast their judgments.
"You were right." they said The dozen horses were not a blessing. They were a curse. Your only son has broken his legs, and now in your old age you have no one to help you. Now you are poorer than ever."
The old man spoke again, "Don't go so far in your judgments. Say only that my son broke his legs. Who knows if it is a blessing or a curse? No one knows. We only have a fragment of the whole".
A few weeks later the country engaged in a war against a neighboring country. All the young men of the village were required to join the army. Only the son of the old man was excluded because he was injured. The enemy was strong and people feared they would never see their sons again. Once again, they gathered around the old man crying and screaming because their sons had been taken. "You were right, old man," they wept. "God knows you were right. This proves it. Your son's accident was a blessing. His legs may be broken, but at least he is with you. Our sons are gone forever."
The old man spoke again, "Why do you always draw conclusions? No one knows. Say only this: Your sons went to war, and mine did not. No one is wise enough to know if it is a blessing or a curse. Only God knows."
The old woodcutter was content with what he knew and not disturbed by what he couldn't understand. Epictetus said, "I am always content with that which happens, for I think that which God chooses is better than what I choose."
I saw this philosophy enacted in real life when I became a single mother at 18. Confessing my pregnancy to my parents was a real ordeal, and they were devastated. My father, tho his love for me never waivered, couldn't bear for his friends to know, couldn't bear to be seen with his visibly pregnant unmarried daughter on the street. It was a source of great shame and heartache to him.
The day my beautiful son was born was a tremendous turning point and a quantum shift in my father's belief system. My dad took one look at that precious child in the nursery, left the hospital, returned with a dozen yellow roses, knelt at my bedside with tears in his eyes, asked me to forgive him. Then asked me so sweetly, beautifully, and humbly if I'd name that precious baby after him. I cried, he cried, we hugged each other and my baby was given his grandfather's proud name, which incidentally was the name of my brother, my father's only son who had died in infancy. What a beautiful day for all of us, as judgments fell and love triumphed. My son became the light of my father's life, and my father became the surrogate father my son would grow to adore.
So you see my friends, we're never too old to learn new lessons in life. (My dad was 60 at the time my son was born.) Are the presumed hardships of our life necessarily a curse as we may perceive them, or a blessing in disguise? Be open to the possibilities...and trust that all is unfolding as it should.