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Good or bad, hard to say

I recently had an accident. It was simply one of those moments when you are humming along minding your own business and BAM! you’re down. I was happily walking and fell. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal, so I thought nothing of it at the time. I brushed myself off and continued on my way. But after a few more steps I realized something wasn’t right. When I arrived home I grabbed a Band-Aid and patched up the parts of me that needed it.

As it turned out, my seemingly minor trip turned into several weeks of limited mobility. What bad luck! Suddenly my life would need to change in order to meet the new boundaries of my abilities. Even the smallest activity caused me pain. It was then I remembered a TED Talk given by Heather Lanier I recently viewed. She began her 15-minute talk by reciting a centuries-old Taoist lesson of the relative nature of good and bad. It goes like this:

“There’s an ancient parable about a farmer who lost his horse. And neighbors came over to say, ‘Oh, that’s too bad.’ And the farmer said, ‘Good or bad, hard to say.” Days later, the horse returns and brings with it seven wild horses. And neighbors come over to say, ‘Oh, that’s so good!’ And the farmer just shrugs and says, ‘Good or bad, hard to say.’ The next day, the farmer’s son rides one of the wild horses, is thrown off and breaks his leg. And the neighbors say, ‘Oh, that’s terrible luck.’ And the farmer says, ‘Good or bad, hard to say.’ Eventually, officers come knocking on people’s doors, looking for men to draft for an army, and they see the farmer’s son and his leg and they pass him by. And neighbors say, ‘Ooh, that’s great luck!’ And the farmer says, ‘Good or bad, hard to say.'”

There are many examples of this parable in our everyday lives. Many moments we try to reduce to good or bad. The alarm doesn’t go off and we are late. The car in front of us drives too slowly. A job interview that didn’t go the way we wanted. We are often quick to categorize our life’s events. We try to make them fit into our preconceived notions of good and bad. For some reason this helps us understand what happened. Or perhaps it only serves to categorize and classify events into groupings that were divined from luck, absolving us of any connection or responsibility.

When I first listened to the parable I tried to use it as a guide to be laid over my life experiences. But I was missing the point. What I ended up doing was trying to reverse and rewrite my inner monologue so the bad things that occurred in my life were really good. The more I examined it the more I realized that trying to categorize anything as just good or just bad is foolish and limiting. Perhaps our experiences are just moments in our life. Moments in time valued both for their face value and how they fit into our total picture.

The Japanese employ an ancient practice of joining or repairing vessels that are cracked with gold or other precious metals. Kintsugi, or golden joinery, allows for us to see the whole while appreciating the specifics. Nothing that happens to the whole is better or worse than anything else; together it makes up its entirety. When the Japanese mend broken objects they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold, because they believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.

No one person’s life can be measured on only the good. That is an incomplete view. Our life is made up of many moments. And while we like to believe we are the masters of our universe, are we really? We need life to make sense the moment it’s happening. It’s difficult to wait and see how it all fits. But what if each experience was viewed as neither good nor bad? If we simply accept it for what it is we may reduce the stress of our moments.

Lesslee Dort, an Alpena native, is a board-certified patient advocate who firmly believes knowledge is power when it comes to being in control of one’s health. She spends her days helping others navigate their healthcare and her free time exploring. Reach Lesslee via email at lesslee@friendstogethermi.org. Read her here on the third Thursday of each month.