There is a Toaist parable of a Chinese farmer that goes something like this:
A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
In short, no one event can be judged to be negative or positive on its own - only time can tell. The farmer was comfortable with the state of "not-knowing."
I thought of this parable in early April of this year as I was recuperating from a bulging disc in my lower back. Who can say what direction my life might take because of this injury? Needless to say, from my perspective, this event was judged as negative. It was the worst pain that I had ever felt in my life - and from someone who has suffered from chronic pain for the past decade, that's saying a lot. I came close to fainting twice, from the pain alone - once at home, and again later in the emergency room.
As a homemaker, I was lucky - I had no job that I was dependent upon, so there was no stress that I might lose a much-needed stream of revenue. Unluckily, I had time to think, and the main question that I have pondered every idle moment of my life again came to the fore: "Is this all there is - is a homemaker what I was meant to be?"
I want the answer to be "no." I have very much wanted to be productive outside the home, that much is clear. But then the next question - "Where do I go from here?"- stopped me in my (proverbial) tracks. Really - where do I go from here? I have a spotty work history, a certificate and a degree I can't use, bad knees, and now - a bad back. My choices - whatever they are - are dwindling.
I'm still exploring a few avenues, professions that are not physically taxing - bookkeeping, medical transcription/coding, and computer programming - but I'm reluctant to put all my eggs in one basket. I've done it before (several times), and each time has met with failure.
But with those failures, I did learn wonderful things about myself that it might have taken years for me to learn otherwise.
The Marine Corps taught me many things, mainly:
- My joints are terribly prone to injury.
- I crave efficiency (a craving that will never be satisfied in the military).
- Titles and rank mean little to me - what does matter to me is competency.
- I have little patience for social politics.
- My most hated phrase is "Because it's always been done that way."
I learned other things as a Library Assistant:
- I hate unions with a purple passion.
- Public institutions encourage an attitude of complacency in their employees, which I absolutely abhor.
- Explaining simple solutions to the same simple problems several times a day to several different people is incredibly frustrating for me, and I tend to show that frustration.
- I lose all respect for superiors that don't seem to know their job, or perform their job poorly.
- I hate answering the phone, especially working at a public institution. It's amazing how many nutters call the library, and you have to be polite and listen, lest they file a complaint.
So, what did I learn from my various injuries? If I treated them as a job, what kind of life experience and self-knowledge could I say that I have gained from them?
- Pain focuses my energy to what I can do, control, and change - it serves no purpose to be angry and frustrated about things I cannot change.
- I am determined - no matter how many injuries I endure, I focus on recovery, progression, and improvement. Even though I don't know where I'm going, I'm going somewhere, and I'm determined to get there.
- I am resourceful - If there's something I cannot do, I find a way to get it done.
- I seek problems to solve (which can make me a nitpicky fussbudget at times)
- I throw a lot of passion and energy into creative pursuits - crochet, drawing, writing, home brewing, etc.
So, injury can be both bad and good. What I have lost in physical stamina, I have gained in mental acuity. I've learned much about myself - my personality (which I'll address in a forthcoming article), my tenaciousness, and my creativity. I've become interested in activities - Console Gaming, Russian Literature, and Gardening to name a few - that I wouldn't have become interested in if I weren't trying to entertain an active, inquisitive mind.
I suppose it's only human to want what one cannot have. I cannot have everything - and for that, I am grateful.