There is a story I have read on Yom Kippur, it’s a Zen Buddhist story not Jewish one, (because we don’t eat in the end:) but at times like this virus, it’s offering me some perspective I’d like to share:
One day in late summer, an old farmer was working in his field with his old sick horse. The farmer felt compassion for the horse and desired to lift its burden. So he left his horse loose to go the mountains and live out the rest of its life.
Soon after, neighbors from the nearby village visited, offering their condolences and said, “What a shame. Now your only horse is gone. How unfortunate you are!”. You must be very sad. How will you live, work the land, and prosper?” The farmer replied:” Maybe so, maybe not” (or “who knows, we shall see”).
Two days later the old horse came back now rejuvenated after meandering in the mountainsides while eating the wild grasses. He came back with twelve new younger and healthy horses, which followed the old horse into the corral.
Word got out in the village of the old farmer’s good fortune and it wasn’t long before people stopped by to congratulate the farmer on his good luck. “How fortunate you are!” they exclaimed. You must be very happy!” Again, the farmer softly said: “Maybe so, maybe not…. Who knows? We shall see.”
At daybreak on the next morning, the farmer’s only son set off to attempt to train the new wild horses, but the farmer’s son was thrown to the ground and broke his leg. One by one villagers arrived during the day to bemoan the farmer’s latest misfortune. “Oh, what a tragedy! Your son won’t be able to help you farm with a broken leg. You’ll have to do all the work yourself, How will you survive? You must be very sad”. They said. Calmly going about his usual business the farmer answered, “Maybe so…maybe not …Who knows? We shall see”.
Several days later a war broke out. The Emperor’s men arrived in the village demanding that young men come with them to be conscripted into the Emperor’s army. As it happened the farmer’s son was deemed unfit because of his broken leg. In the teahouse, the villagers again commented “What very good fortune you have!!” As there own young sons were marched away. “You must be very happy.” “Maybe so, Who knows? We shall see!”, replied the old farmer as he headed off to work his field alone.
As time went on the broken leg healed but the son was left with a slight limp. Again the neighbors came to pay their condolences. “Oh what bad luck. Too bad for you”! But the old farmer simply replied; “Maybe so, maybe not…Who knows? We shall see.”
As it turned out the other young village boys had died in the war and the old farmer and his son were the only able bodied men capable of working the village lands. The old farmer became wealthy and was very generous to the villagers. They said: “Oh how fortunate we are, you must be very happy”, to which the old farmer replied, “Maybe…Who knows? We shall see!”
This is how I’m approaching the virus. Yes, at the moment it seems apocalyptic, people are panicking and buying things in a frenzy, predictions of many people dying; market crashing, and the government doesn’t know what to do, etc, etc
Yet I’m at optimist at heart, and I have let my mind wander to what if: the best case scenario. What if the corona virus:
- Inspires international cooperation between scientists like never before, and we are able to put that to use in the future with other diseases?
- Creates new jobs we don’t yet know about?
- Israel finds a vaccine and offers it to its neighbors and peace breaks out?
- Humbles the bullies, trolls, warmongers and other nasty people-
- Connects people in different ways
- Catapults us to the future where we see technology as a true gift to keep safe and us connected
- We learn we can cooperate across borders and then maybe find cures for plastic overload and environmental issues?
- Our children see their aging parents with more vulnerability and treat them with more respect and love?
- We use our time at home to clean our house, catch up on things, learn a new skill, and clean out our inboxes and voicemails! Or better yet, make art and music, meditate, and pray
- We find new ways to help and care for each other
- We slow carbon emissions down with less travel that it actually helps the planet and puts us on the right track
- We find we are more resilient than we knew,
- Billionaires step up and fund more
- The world finds more compassion and solutions for the poor, disabled, elderly, mentally ill and those who need ongoing help
- This crisis resets our overwork/overwhelm cycle
- We learn to enjoy and love more those we are are with at home
- We learn how to manage anxiety
- This exposes the cracks in our healthcare system and we unite to fix it
- We try new recipes and waste less food since we don’t want to go out and shop
- We get creative
- New ( younger) leadership emerges to take us to the next stage of our evolution
Maybe …who knows? we shall see…..
We can’t and shouldn’t minimize the suffering, physical and economic, and agony that many people are experiencing and will experience in the coming weeks. As Jews we know that loss of life is never to be taken lightly. But imagining a better future arising from this crisis is an important spiritual exercise.
Hopefully in the spirit of Passover we will all feel liberated from the plague, we will not have taken foolish chances, and as a human family, we will be stronger from the journey through the narrow places.