March 07

What would Saiou say?

There once was an old man named Saiou. One day his horse ran away. His neighbors wailed about his bad fortune but Saiou said, “Why do you think it’s bad fortune? It might be good luck.” A few days later the horse returned with another horse and the neighbors congratulated Saiou for his good fortune. He replied, “How do you know it’s good luck?” Later Saiou’s son fell from the horse and everyone commiserated with Saiou about his misfortune. Again he responded,” How do you know it’s bad luck?” Soon after a war broke out and all of the young men in the village had to join the Emperor’s army.

The Chinese characters in the photo represent a famous Japanese proverb about Saiou’s horse. The proverb, which is among my favorites, translates to “Human affairs are like Saiou’s horse.” It’s akin to the idea of “Every cloud has a silver lining” but when I first heard this proverb 30 years ago what struck me was the reaction of the neighbors and the wisdom of Saiou. Every time there’s some major bump in the road I’ve learned to curb my reflex to be either very happy or very frustrated. A great work opportunity may mean longer hours and more stress. Maybe time away from our daughter and friends. Similarly, I’ve learned to see that sometimes things not working out is a blessing. When Bill and I learned that we would be unable to have children I remembered this proverb and my first reaction was, “I’m so relieved not to carry the guilt of passing on my asthma to our child.” Knowing my love for Asia, someone sent me a card with another Chinese proverb I love, “My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon.” Had we had a pregnancy we wouldn’t have adopted our wonderful and very healthy daughter. We can’t imagine our lives without her. This is not a Pollyanna approach to life but rather the idea that amid the ashes of every hurt, every disaster and every heartbreak there’s a chance for joy. We just have to look for it.