You, me, them, everybody — we’re all reacting as best we can. I doubt so many folks would get married, or have kids, if certainty was required. It’s easier to become a parent than it is to get your driver’s license.
My parents surely weren’t ready for children. I’m only here because I’m relentless. Back when half of me was still a sperm, I swam through a hole in a condom, fought my way through some spermicidal foam my mother was using, and that one stubborn sperm beat the odds. It found the egg. They united. Boo-ya-shaka! 40 weeks later, I was alive and well and tired from the move.
My parents had been actively trying to prevent my birth. As newlyweds, they had their lives figured out. Then along came a little human wrecking ball to smash their freshly built life plans. The funny thing is they loved me even after I razed the carefully stacked and arranged bricks of their intended future.
We overlook the role of dumb luck, blind chance in our lives. We forget that ignorance is, not only bliss, but often responsible for much of our success. Other helping hands besides surprise babies are unexpected blunders, accidents and odd behaviors.
None of us knows what’s going on, really. Only much later will your life make sense. That’s cool. It’s probably a good thing that you can’t determine what’s happening or why it’s occurring. Be glad it’s impossible to know what’s important in your life while it’s happening. It’s like the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle of being human.
Trust that the meaningful arcs of your life remain undecided until much later, when time reveals the meaning to you; often they appear in the shape of your lasting and loving relationships, your bonds with people and with places. You want me to prove it? Fine.
Let’s say you get up in the morning, the alarm doesn’t go off because your dumb dog tripped the cord and pulled out the plug while you were sleeping. Consequently, you’re late for work. But it’s not just any day; it’s the most important day of the calendar year for your company. You’re late for the pitch meeting to your company’s biggest client, and you’re the one who’s supposed to open the meeting, you were the rising star, and now, you show up late and unprepared.
Yes, you get fired. Your career goes into a tailspin and it’s all because of your dog. Or bad luck. Or faulty planning on your part – you should have had two clocks, or whatever. You want to say what it all means. You want to point to where it all went wrong. You want to ascribe meaning for that heinous chain of events. You leave your office, carrying a box of your stuff, humiliated and dejected.
Speeding home, you’re surprised with how little traffic there is since you never drive home this early. You go a little faster. You begin to enjoy the wind and your music, and say to yourself — to hell with your boss. You didn’t like her anyway and she can kiss your… Bam!
You get in a fender-bender with another car. Could this day be any worse? You get out of your car. And the surprise is the other driver is cute. You apologize and explain how you were just fired and you got distracted by your music but you have car insurance and everything will be fine. You make a joke about your driving. They laugh. They tease you for being a shitty driver. As you exchange information you both keep laughing.
Years later, you tell your grandchildren that was the greatest day of your life. That was the Tuesday when you met the love of your life.
Okay, forgive the schmaltz. That’s all my time in Hollywood talking. (Sorry.) You get the point. You never know what anything means until it’s measured against the fullness of time. If that’s how it is, you might as well, stop beating yourself up.
The secret to success was buried in that little two person romantic comedy I just fabricated for you. It was in how the hero reacted to life’s twists and turns and all its stokes and burns. The hero laughed after getting in a car accident on the same day they were fired. That’s the key. Laughter. It helps you avoid the bitter feeling you were burnt by cruel fate. It helps you keep going.
You get to pick your attitude. If everyone’s flying blind you might as well believe everything’s going to be fine. Grin at danger. It’s almost always a fifty-fifty proposition. Just be lazy and choose the optimistic view. It’s less work than anxiety. And it totally helps you if you think everything will be okay.
There is a Zulu legend that tells the story of a severed thumb that makes this point far more eloquently. The legend is funny and simple the way all the best stories are.
THE KING AND HIS FRIEND
An African king had a close friend who had the habit of remarking “this is good” about every occurrence in life no matter what it was. One day the king and his friend were out hunting. The king’s friend loaded a gun and handed it to the king, but alas he loaded it wrong and when the king fired it, his thumb was blown off.
“This is good!” exclaimed his friend.
The horrified and bleeding king was furious. “How can you say this is good? This is obviously horrible!” he shouted.
The king put his friend in jail.
About a year later the king went hunting by himself. Cannibals captured him and took him to their village. They tied his hands, stacked some wood, set up a stake and bound him to it. As they came near to set fire to the wood, they noticed that the king was missing a thumb. Being superstitious, they never ate anyone who was less than whole. They untied the king and sent him on his way.
Full of remorse the king rushed to the prison to release his friend.
“You were right, it WAS good” the king said.
The king told his friend how the missing thumb saved his life and added, “I feel so sad that I locked you in jail. That was such a bad thing to do”
“NO! This is good!” responded his delighted friend.
“Oh, how could that be good my friend, I did a terrible thing to you while I owe you my life”.
“It is good” said his friend, “because if I wasn’t in jail I would have been hunting with you and they would have killed ME.”
That story always gives me a grin because of that great last line. We can all relate. We’ve all been the dude who’s stuck in jail and doesn’t get to go hunting with his friend. The damn trouble is you never know when it’s good that you missed the hunting trip.
The Chinese have a similar story. It sheds more light on this same idea. The angle is different, the relationships between characters more contentious, but I love this one for how well it captures the ups and downs of the roller coaster of one’s life. This version of the classic story is by the author, Huai Nan Tzu.
Once upon a time in a village in ancient China there was an old man who lived alone with his son. They were very poor. They had just a small plot of land outside the village to grow rice and vegetables and a rude hut to live in. But they also had a good mare. It was the son’s pride and joy, and their only possession of value.
One day the mare ran away.
The old man’s friends came to him and commiserated. “What a wonderful mare that was!” they said. “What bad fortune that she ran off!”
“Who can tell?” the old man said.
Two weeks later the mare returned accompanied by a fine barbarian stallion. Friends and neighbors all came around and congratulated the old man. “Now you have your mare back, and that stallion is as fine as any in the land. What a stroke of good fortune!”
“Who can tell?” the old man said.
Two weeks later the son fell off the stallion while riding and broke his leg. Friends of the old man came to him to express their sympathy. “It’s too bad your son broke his leg, and right before the planting season, too. What bad luck!”
“Who can tell?” the old man said.
Two weeks later, war came to the land, and all able-bodied young men were drafted. The troop that contained the men from the village was at the front in a bloody engagement, and the entire troop was lost. All the men from the village died in battle.
The young man with the broken leg stayed home. His leg healed. He and his father bred many fine horses, and tended their fields.
You’re smart. You get it. You understand the essence of all of these stories:
- Be not afraid of Life
- You don’t know shit anyway
- You think you do … but you really don’t
Yes, you know the capital of the nation and how to spell words and multiply numbers, and if you try real hard you can build a spaceship that’ll get us to the moon and back; that’s all well and good, and yes, it’s impressive. We clearly know how to do some really cool stuff and do it really well. Bravo. Check us out. But when it comes to knowing what some event or development in your life means – you, me, we have no clue.
It’s a roller coaster ride. Bill Hicks said that. Don’t be afraid of the ride. Enjoy as much of it as you can. And laugh at your troubles. That’s sexy.
You never know when you might be in the middle of the best day of your life.