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Maybe, Maybe Not

Last week, my five-year-old niece climbed onto my lap and asked me to read her  Zen Shorts . . . a charming story about three children who make friends with their neighborhood kimono-wearing, Taoist-parable-spouting, serenity-now-embodying Panda.  He helps them solve dilemmas by relating wise tales, one of which particularly resonated with me. To paraphrase (without the benefit of the book to reference):

One day, a poor farmer’s only horse broke through the fence and galloped away.  “What terrible luck!” said his neighbors.

“Maybe, maybe not,” he replied.

The next week, the horse returned, bringing with it two wild horses that the man and his son quickly corralled. “What wonderful luck!” said his neighbors.

“Maybe, maybe not,” he responded.

A few days later, the farmer’s son tried to tame one of the new horses, but fell off and broke his leg. “What horrible luck,” said his neighbors.

“Maybe, maybe not,” he replied.

The next week, the imperial army came through the town, rounding up soldiers for battle.  The farmer’s son, because of his injury, was quite likely spared his life.

This past year has felt like a Year of Rotten Luck on many levels.  Lots of tears.  Lots of prayers.  Yada, yada. “Your luck is bound to turn around soon,” many a good friend has said. Maybe, maybe not.  But this month, my husband and I — during a (lucky and unexpected) long, island vacation — began to play the maybes, maybe nots, and what-ifs of our experiences this year.  And in many cases, began to feel quite grateful for the unexpected outcomes of unwelcome events.  I felt a little like Joseph in Genesis 50:20, who tells his brothers (years after their failed assassination attempt): “What you intended for evil, God intended for good.”

It’s a great scripture to ponder because it acknowledges the awful (Joseph was abandoned and enslaved: awful) yet leaves open the possibility that the awful can be transformative — even if, on a mortal sphere, it was not intended as such.

One more thought: throughout much of this year, I kept stumbling upon the following story from Luke 5 — during scripture study, on the radio, on the internet:

“One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

Clearly the most direct route inside the house is through the front door.  But the way was blocked, so these friends got creative and went through the roof instead.  I think there is a message in here about hope, about friends who are willing to raise to roof for those they love . . . and it reminds me that sometimes we have to take unexpected detours to get to the right place.


Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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15 Responses

  1. Keri Brooks says:

    Wonderful! I love your perspective. I’ve been through some “maybe, maybe not” stuff the past few years. I wish I had this wisdom then.

  2. Alisa says:

    Brilliant perspective, Deborah. As someone who is coming across both lucky and unlucky times according to the views of many, it is comforting to read that often things just are.

  3. D'Arcy says:

    Deborah, thank you for this post. I agree..friends are important, a support system is necessary, and life is so full of those maybe, maybe not moments.

  4. esodhiambo says:

    Very nice.

  5. Caroline says:

    I love your analysis of Luke 5. Just beautiful!

  6. kaylana says:

    Ditto on all of the above! Thanks.

  7. EmilyCC says:

    So wonderful to have you back, Deborah!

    I love this post; it’s a refreshing way to look at adversity. And, it reminds me of when I had my colectomy almost 15 years ago. People said, “How awful!,” “You’re so young!,” “You’ll have a horrible scar!” There were/are some downsides, but that colectomy gave me direction towards a career, friends I never would have otherwise met (Heather, I’m looking straight at you), and spiritual experiences that are unparalleled to any others in my life. Thanks for reminding me of that.

  8. Kelly Ann says:

    Thank you for sharing this. What a wonderful thing to teach a 5 year old and to appreciate for oneself. I really like the interpretation of Luke 5 as well. I find it interesting that the man was not immediately healed.

  9. chelseaw says:

    What a great post, thank you!

  10. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for this wonderful post.
    It really does give me pause to think of the way our “luck” seems different in hindsight.

    So glad you’re back!

  11. Deborah says:

    Thanks for your comments, everyone.

    Emily, for some reason, your comment reminded me of a section of psychologist Daniel Gilbert’s provocative book “Happiness.” He argues that humans are particularly bad at anticipating what will make us happy and unhappy — that events we predict will bring us great joy tend to bring momentary pleasure but quickly return us to our “baseline” of happiness. And (here’s the good news) events that we predict will leave us devastated . . . well, turns out that we are more resilient than we think. See this article for a cliff note version: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/getArticle.cfm?id=2188

  12. Kirsten says:

    I really love this post! So many of the experiences in our lives can seem one way, but turn out the other after the passage of time and change of perspective. I seem to focus more on your analysis of the Luke 5 passage. For me, it reinforces the idea that the usual, traditional path is not always the one to take. Whether it is at church, the workplace or home, there will be times when we need to be creative and find new ways to be heard, understood and seek for guidance. This has been true for my life this past year. The well-worn path wasn’t getting me where I needed to be, so I had to climb on the roof to find my way in. In this story the best part is that Jesus acknowledges their ingenuity and faith and blesses them. Sometimes the “road less traveled” is the better one…

  13. Deborah says:

    “In this story the best part is that Jesus acknowledges their ingenuity and faith and blesses them.”

    Yes! I the love image of this man’s friends knocking a hole in the roof and rigging a system to lower their companion. What creativity and spunk. What devotion. The front door is closed? Through the roof!

  14. Deborah says:


    Now that I’m not trying to respond via iphone, I want to respond more to your insight about alternate paths. I’ve turned over this small story again and again in the last few months (as I said, it seemed to appear *everywhere*) . . . it was as if my soul knew this was an important metaphor and I had to keep looking at it from different angles. The one you suggest has been particularly key at a couple of moments — Jesus is sitting in a house offering good gifts (healing, in particular). The traditional path just doesn’t work, but this band of friends are determined to find a way in; they don’t just take a path less traveled — they create a new path. Utterly unconventional. Some might even say dangerous.

    I’ve also thought of this story in terms of particular hopes and desires that have not come easily (if at all) this year. It doesn’t mean such “luck” will never come . . . but maybe I need to start climbing the roof, examine my approach, do something bold, take the scarier path (cause yeah, I’m afraid of heights).

  1. December 30, 2009

    […] maybe hear a whisper. Half […]

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