The Only Way
My cell phone rang just after midnight. I didn’t answer. Then it rang again a minute later. I rolled over, grabbed the phone off the night stand, and squinted at the bright, glowing caller ID screen. “Claire,” it read. Claire is a close friend – a friend who tragically lost her husband to a car accident six months ago. And I figured since she rarely calls me in the middle of the night, it was probably important.
“Hey, Claire. Is everything okay?” I asked.
“No!” she declared as she burst into tears. “I need to talk… I need help…”
“I’m listening,” I reassured her. “What’s on your mind?”
“I lost my job this evening, and I’m tired, and I just don’t know anymore…”
“A job is just a job. They come and go. Remember, Angel lost her job last year and it was a blessing in disguise. She found something better.”
“I know, I know,” she sighed over her tears. “I just felt like the world was going to end after the accident… Ya know? And then my friends and family helped me get back on my feet…”
“And you’re still on your feet right now,” I added.
“Well, sometimes I feel like I am, and sometimes I feel like I’m barely maintaining my balance, and sometimes I feel like I’m falling again. And this series of feelings just keeps cycling over and over again in a loop – good days followed by bad days and vice versa. It’s just one long struggle. And I’m exhausted!”
“But you keep moving forward…”
“Actually,” she continued over more tears. “The only way I’ve found to keep myself moving forward from moment to moment through the hard times is by repeating a short saying my grandfather taught me when I was a kid. And I don’t know how or why it helps now, but it does.”
“What’s the saying?” I asked.
“Do your best with what’s in front of you and leave the rest to the powers above you,” she replied.
I smiled. Because I love pieces of inspirational prose that help people progress through even the hardest of times. And because it suddenly reminded me of a short story my grandfather told me when I was a kid – one that’s also applicable to Claire’s circumstance.
“Your grandfather was a wise man,” I said. “And it’s funny, because your grandfather’s saying reminds me of a short story my grandfather once told me. Would you like to hear it?”
“Yeah,” she replied.
My Grandfather’s Story
Once upon a time, in a small Indian village, the village fisherman accidentally dropped his favorite fishing pole into the river and was unable to retrieve it. When his neighbors caught word of his loss, they came over and said, “That’s just bad luck!” The fisherman replied, “Perhaps.”
The following day, the fisherman hiked a mile down the bank of the river to see if he could find his fishing pole. He came upon a small, calm alcove in the river bank that was loaded to the brim with salmon. He used a back-up fishing pole to catch nearly 100 salmon, loaded them into his wagon, and brought them back to the village to barter with other villagers. Everyone in the village was ecstatic to receive the fresh salmon. When his neighbors caught word of his success, they came over and said, “Wow! What great luck you have!” The fisherman replied, “Perhaps.”
Two days later, the fisherman began hiking back towards the alcove so he could catch more salmon. But a tenth of a mile into the hike, he tripped on a tree stump and severely sprained his ankle. He slowly and painfully hopped back to the village to nurse his health. When his neighbors caught word of his injury, they came over and said, “That’s just bad luck!” The fisherman replied, “Perhaps.”
Four days went by, and although the fisherman’s ankle was slowly healing, he could not yet walk, and the village was completely out of fish to eat. Three other villagers volunteered to go to the river to fish while the fisherman recovered. That evening, when the three men did not return, the village sent a search party out for them only to discover that the men had been attacked and killed by a pack of wolves. When the fisherman’s neighbors caught word of this, they came over and said, “You’re so lucky you weren’t out there fishing. What great luck you have!” The fisherman replied, “Perhaps.”
“A few days later… well, you can guess how the story continues,” I said.
The Moral of the Story
Claire chuckled and said, “Thank you.” Because the moral of the story was immediately clear to her. We just don’t know – we never do. Life is an unpredictable phenomenon. No matter how good or bad things seem right now, we can never be 100% certain what will happen next.
And this actually lifts a huge weight off of our shoulders. Because it means that regardless of what’s happening to us right now – good, bad or indifferent, it’s all just part of the phenomenon we call ‘life’ – which flows like the river in my grandfather’s story, unpredictably from one occurrence to the next. And the smartest choice we can make is to swim with the flow of the river.
Which means, quite simply, not panicking in the face of unforeseen misfortunes or losing our poise in limelight of our triumphs, but instead “doing our best with what’s in front of us and leaving the rest to the powers above us.”
Photo by: A. Andres