Updated: Apr 26
The illusion that something is good or bad is usually only a matter of perspective. There is a great parable that illustrates this point. It is about a man whose son captures a beautiful, wild horse. His family and friends say to him, how wonderful, what a great skill your son has, how lucky he is and the father only responds, we will see.
When the son is thrown from the horse and breaks his leg, his family and friends all say how terrible it is and what a curse the horse is and the father responds, we will see. So when the military comes into town to gather up all of the able-bodied boys to march off to war, his friends and family say how wonderful it is that your son's leg was broken and that he was spared military service and his father responds...you guessed it, we will see.
So the moral of the story is that no matter how good or bad something may appear at the time, it is only perspective that allows us to see a broader meaning or reason for that thing to occur in our life. The thing itself is neither bad or good, only our perception changes bad to good or good to bad. Said another way, we would all be much happier and healthier if we could remember this at times when things appear to be going badly, or even in times when they appear to be going well so we don't get stuck in our mistaken perception.
Although I don't want to give up my joyful times, I certainly could do with some perspective in my less than joyful or sorrowful times. I experienced this lesson when I was quite young faced with a daunting decision at the age of 15. I found myself pregnant, in a relationship with a heroin addict and living in government subsidized housing. My mother insisted that I go to a convent to have my baby and then give it up for adoption. I knew this would be the end of my education and that I would soon follow in her footsteps and never make it to college even though it was always my dream.
I ran away and was picked up by the police after a few days of living on the streets. I spent several hours speaking with the Catholic Priest who was on call at police headquarters until my mother arrived to pick me up. The Father convinced my mother that she should honor my request to terminate the pregnancy and after she recovered from being told by a man of the cloth to allow an abortion, she agreed. So off I went to New York (this was just before Roe versus Wade legalized it nationwide) alone, afraid and feeling like my life was over in so many ways.
I managed to recover and found new meaning in my life once I was relocated to my grandparents' care. Only a short year later, I was instrumental in starting a community crisis hot line and high school peer counseling center where I personally helped hundreds of girls just like myself through the tough choices of teenage pregnancy. I was able to share the terrible truth of a decision to have an abortion and I know that I had a tremendous impact on those that sought my advice. I also know that I was a role model for girls who thought that suicide was their only choice as their life looked to be too terrible to bear. I assured them that it was only a matter of perspective and that eventually they too would see how this event could positively impact their life or the lives of those they touched. What a wonderful gift this experience was in that it shaped me to be able to return the gift to those in need.
And this event continued to impact my life as I entered college. My training and experience as a peer counselor prepared me for my application to become a resident assistant in the college dorm at Michigan State University. I was uniquely qualified for this position and securing it was a tremendous help as I paid my own way through college. Being a resident assistant covered the costs of room and board and was yet another sign that what happened to me wasn't a curse after all.
These events help me to remember in the midst of something that appears to be terrible, it only seems so because I don't yet have the perspective that will help me see it differently. I try to imagine that I am standing in front of a tree so close that I can't even see that it is a tree yet. And then I imagine slowly backing away from the tree, allowing distance and light to enter my field of vision, allowing me to finally see the situation clearly. This helps me have the patience to gain the perspective for whatever seems terrible to take on its true meaning in my life. Even if it might take months or years to get there, I trust that it will come. And this trust makes it easier to bear in the present moment and helps me embrace those terrible moments.