The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Wild Horses


"Philosophy practiced is the goal of learning." Henry David Thoreau

I believe that philosophy isn't a word game we play at over a cup of tea, where we try to impress our friends with our cleverness. Philosophy describes how we actually live our lives.

Recently I read a post on a forum I belong to, written by someone I consider a friend, regarding her brother. The forum is for people who are interested in Daoism. The brother, I can identify with at a number of levels.

He's 47. I'm nearly 50. At this age, many of us our positioning ourselves for retirement; which will be upon us more quickly that we might wish. This brother has a bad back, and other health issues. He also has some 17 years of military service (active service plus National Guard). He'd really like to get an additional 3 years, because a total of 20 years would be a nice plum for his retirement; a military pension.

After exploring some options, he signed up for the inactive reserves and they accepted him. These aren't the Ready Reserves; the guys who spend a weekend a month, and two weeks a year staying current. this is a level below that. He was given some advice that these reservists are rarely if ever called upon.

Sure enough, he gets a call out of the blue to put his affairs in order because he's heading to Iraq. Everyone is undstandably upset. I could only imagine how my own life would be turned upside down.

The Daoist, in my interpretation of things is above all practical and sees things as they are. There's no such thing as a free lunch. He sought to accrue a benefit from the government and in return there existed a chance that he could be called upon to fulfill an obligation. The advice he got with regards to his odds of being called up was wrong. If there are lessons in this for us it is that if you are going to make potentially a life altering decision, you'd better do your research.

No one likes to be surprised by bad news. I don't think we really like surprises at all unless it's good new. The shock is what's most upsetting at first. Tomorrow is another day. Once the shock wears off, we can begin to take stock of our situation, accept our new reality, and beging to assess our options. You have to make the best of where you are.

At nearly 50 years old and not in terribly good shape, what are the odds, really, of him seeing combat? Wouldn't it be more likely that he'd be placed in some sort of back office or maintenance job, so a younger, more fit man could see action?

And then ... there's always another shoe to drop. You never know what it might be. An old Chinese folk story comes to mind. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the website I copied this version from.

Long ago, near the frontier lived an old man. One day he found his horse missing. It was said that the horse was seen running outside the border of the country. The neighbors came to comfort him for the unfortunate loss. But the old man was unexpectedly calm and said, "It doesn't matter; it may not be a bad event, on the contrary, I think it can be a good one."

One night the old man heard some noise of horses and got up to see. To his surprise, he saw another beautiful horse as well as his own. It was clear that his horse had brought a companion home. Hearing the news, the neighbors all came to say congratulation on his good luck. At the greetings, however, the old man was very calm and thoughtful. He added, "It is true that I got a new horse for nothing, but it is hard to say whether it is good or bad. It may be an unlucky thing."

What he said was testified right. The son of the old man was very fond of the horse brought home, and one day, when he was riding the horse, he fell down from the horseback and terribly hurt in his left leg. Since then he was never able to walk freely. "Nothing serious," the old man said, "perhaps it is going to be good."

A year later, many of the youth there were recruited to fight in a war and most of them died. The son of the old man was absolved from the obligation for his disability, so he escaped death.

The old story tells us that good and bad, disaster and happiness can be converting objects to each other sometimes.

1 comment:

ms_lili said...

I appreciate your thoughts on the matter, Rick. There is a calm in my heart. The daoist is not only practical, but they trust in the way of things, including a deep-seated belief that there is an underlying benevolence in the cosmos that makes things "right". Things are just as they need to be.

When this whole 9/11 thing happened and then somehow Iraq got dragged into the mess, my brother wanted to enlist then, to help train young recruits who would be sent into combat. I don't think he signed up for the perks as a primary consideration. I also think he knew more about his status as being converted from inactive to active than he told us.

Please, anyone who is reading, keep him in your thoughts and send him protecting vibes.

--li