CAN IT GET ANY WORSE?

can-it-get-any-worse

A poor man lived with his wife and six children in a very small one-room house. They were always getting in each other’s way and there was so little space they could hardly breathe!

Finally the man could stand it no more. He talked to his wife and asked her what to do. “Go see the rabbi,” she told him, and after arguing a while, he went.

And so the poor man told the rabbi how miserable things were at home with him, his wife, and the six children all eating and living and sleeping in one room. The poor man told the rabbi, “We’re even starting to yell and fight with each other. Life couldn’t be worse.”

The rabbi thought very deeply about the poor man’s problem. Then he said, “Do exactly as I tell you and things will get better. Do you promise?”

“I promise,” the poor man said.

The rabbi then asked the poor man a strange question. “Do you own any animals?”

“Yes,” he said. “I have one cow, one goat, and some chickens.”

“Good,” the rabbi said. “When you get home, take all the animals into your house to live with you.”

The poor man was astonished to hear this advice from the rabbi, but he had promised to do exactly what the rabbi said. So he went home and took all the farm animals into the tiny one-room house.

The next day the poor man ran back to see the rabbi. “What have you done to me, Rabbi?” he cried. “It’s awful. I did what you told me and the animals are all over the house! Rabbi, help me!”

The rabbi listened and said calmly, “Now go home and take the chickens back outside.”

The poor man did as the rabbi said, but hurried back again the next day. “The chickens are gone, but Rabbi, the goat!” he moaned. “The goat is smashing up all the furniture and eating everything in sight!”

The good rabbi said, “Go home and remove the goat and may God bless you.”

So the poor man went home and took the goat outside. But he ran back again to see the rabbi, crying and wailing. “What a nightmare you have brought to my house, Rabbi! With the cow it’s like living in a stable! Can human beings live with an animal like this?”

The rabbi said sweetly, “My friend, you are right. May God bless you. Go home now and take the cow out of your house.” And the poor man went quickly home and took the cow out of the house.

The next day he came running back to the rabbi again. “O Rabbi,” he said with a big smile on his face, “we have such a good life now. The animals are all out of the house. The house is so quiet and we’ve got room to spare! What a joy!”

Source: Aaron Zerah, How the Children Became Stars:
A Family Treasury of Stories, Prayers and Blessings
from Around the World
Sorin Books
, 2000

CONSIDER THIS

  • Perspective is everything.  It is not what we see, but the way we see it. When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.
  • Most of us are just about as happy as we make up our minds to – Abraham  Lincoln
  • Think about your biggest complaint and what the rabbi would tell you if he heard it. Today, follow the rabbi’s advice.
  • Imagine you are the man in the story. At the end, what would you say to a friend who complained about how bad life was?
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PARABLE OF THE SPOONS

Rabbi Haim of Romshishok was an itinerant preacher. He traveled from town to town delivering religious sermons that stressed the importance of respect for one’s fellow man. He often began his talks with the following story:

I once ascended to the firmaments. I first went to see Hell and the sight was horrifying. Row after row of tables were laden with platters of sumptuous food, yet the people seated around the tables were pale and emaciated, moaning in hunger. As I came closer, I understood their predicament.

Every person held a full spoon, but both arms were splinted with wooden slats so he could not bend either elbow to bring the food to his mouth. It broke my heart to hear the tortured groans of these poor people as they held their food so near but could not consume it.

Next I went to visit Heaven. I was surprised to see the same setting I had witnessed in Hell – row after row of long tables laden with food. But in contrast to Hell, the people here in Heaven were sitting contentedly talking with each other, obviously sated from their sumptuous meal.

As I came closer, I was amazed to discover that here, too, each person had his arms splinted on wooden slats that prevented him from bending his elbows. How, then, did they manage to eat?

As I watched, a man picked up his spoon and dug it into the dish before him. Then he stretched across the table and fed the person across from him! The recipient of this kindness thanked him and returned the favor by leaning across the table to feed his benefactor.

I suddenly understood. Heaven and Hell offer the same circumstances and conditions. The critical difference is in the way the people treat each other.

I ran back to Hell to share this solution with the poor souls trapped there. I whispered in the ear of one starving man, ‘You do not have to go hungry. Use your spoon to feed your neighbor, and he will surely return the favor and feed you.’

‘You expect me to feed the detestable man sitting across the table?’ said the man angrily. ‘I would rather starve than give him the pleasure of eating!’

Source: Moshe Kranc, The Hasidic Masters’ Guide to Management
Devora Publishing, 2004) pages 108-109

Note: There are variations of the tale across many religions and cultures, it’s message so universal.

CONSIDER THIS

The difference between heaven and hell is not the setting. It’s in the way people treat each other.

So much of how we deal with the world simply comes down to perspective. Heaven and hell, the same place and situation, the only difference the attitudes and approach of the people present.

We can create heaven and hell for one another, right here in this world, by the way we treat each other. We have the ability to cause suffering and pain, and we have the ability to bring comfort and hope.

FROM A CHILD’S POINT OF VIEW

 

On a busy Saturday morning, Dad and his five-year-old son Martin made a bargain: If Martin behaved himself while Dad ran some errands at the home improvement store, Dad would take Martin to a movie.

Deal!

But the deal quickly fell apart. Martin began to pout and whine as soon as he and Dad walked into the store, making it impossible for Dad to get anything done.

“I don’t think you’re holding up your end of the bargain, buddy,” Dad said. “We had a deal. Remember?”

The little boy nodded tearfully.

Dad noticed that Martin’s shoelaces had come undone and knelt down to tie them. Martin sniffled and grasped the sleeve of his father’s sweatshirt, holding on. While Dad was still on his knees, he noticed the chaos around them: Shoppers nudged and pushed one another in an effort to get through the aisles; an hysterical mother called out for a lost child; a display of boxed items tumbled to the floor because a distracted customer wheeled a cart into it. And poor Martin kept getting hit in the shoulders and head with purses and bags as people brushed passed him.

From that vantage point, Dad realized how overwhelming and terrifying all of this chaos was to a five-year-old. He felt badly for not having been more sympathetic to his son’s plight and realized that Martin had been a champ in trying to brave his way through it all.

Shoes tied, Dad lifted up Martin and placed him on his shoulders. “Hey, buddy, what do you say we get out of here and do this shopping some other time?”

“Are you sure, Daddy?” Martin asked, trying to gauge why the plan was changing.

“Yup. Positive. Let’s go to that movie.”

Source: Adapted from
Seeds of Greatness by Denis Waitley

CONSIDER THIS

The Dominican theologian and mystic Meister Eckhart preached that “Whatever God does, the first outburst is always compassion.”

Compassion is the ability and the willingness to enter the chaos, the pain, and the story of another.  It is all about putting oneself in the place of someone like Martin: to see the world from their perspective, to see what scares them, to understand their fears, to embrace their pain.

THE OTHER SIDE

A drunk crossed the street and accosted a pedestrian, asking him, “I shay, which ish the other shide of the shtreet?”

The pedestrian, somewhat nonplussed, replied, “That side, of course!”

The drunk said, “Shtrange. When I wash on that shide, they shaid it wash thish shide.”

Source | Desmond Tutu, God is Not a Christian: And Other Provocation
(Harper One, 2011) page 5.

CONSIDER THIS

Where the other side of the street is depends on where we are. Our perspective differs with our context, the things that have helped to form us. Change your point of view, shift your standpoint and the whole picture changes!

KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE

Here is a letter written by a first-year college student to her worried father during the middle of her second semester. The story delightfully points out how easy it is to lose perspective.

Dear Dad,

Everything is going well here at college this semester, so you can stop worrying. I am very, very happy now. . . you would love Ichabod. He is a wonderful, wonderful man and our first three months of marriage have been blissful.

And more good news Dad. The drug rehab program we are both in just told us that the twins that are due soon will not be addicted at birth.

Having read this, her father then turned the page with trepidation. On the other side of the note it said:

Now, Dad, there actually is no Ichabod. I’m not married nor pregnant. And I haven’t ever abused drugs. But I did get a “D” in chemistry, so keep things in perspective! 

Source | Robert Wicks, Bounce: Living the Resilient Life
(Oxford University Press, 2010) page 105

CONSIDER THIS

  • Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up but a comedy in long shot. | Charlie Chaplin
  • We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are. | The Talmud
  • Whether you see a staircase as heading up or down depends on where you are standing. | Angel Kyodo Williams
  • I cannot judge my work while I am doing it. I have to do as painters do, stand back and view it from a distance, but not too great a distance. |  Blaise Pascal

THE STONECUTTER

There was once a stonecutter, who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life.

One day, he passed a wealthy merchant’s house, and through the open gateway, saw many fine possessions and important visitors. “How powerful that merchant must be!” thought the stonecutter. He became very envious, and wished that he could be like the merchant. Then he would no longer have to live the life of a mere stonecutter.

To his great surprise, he suddenly became the merchant, enjoying more luxuries and power than he had ever dreamed of, envied and detested by those less wealthy than himself. But soon a high official passed by, carried in a sedan chair, accompanied by attendants, and escorted by soldiers beating gongs. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, had to bow low before the procession. “How powerful that official is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a high official!” 

Then he became the high official, carried everywhere in his embroidered sedan chair, feared and hated by the people all around, who had to bow down before him as he passed. It was a hot summer day, and the official felt very uncomfortable in the sticky sedan chair. He looked up at the sun. It shone proudly in the sky, unaffected by his presence. “How powerful the sun is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the sun!” 

Then he became the sun, shining fiercely down on everyone, scorching the fields, cursed by the farmers and laborers. But a huge black cloud moved between him and the earth, so that his light could no longer shine on everything below. “How powerful that storm cloud is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a cloud!”

Then he became the cloud, flooding the fields and villages, shouted at by everyone. But soon he found that he was being pushed away by some great force, and realized that it was the wind. “How powerful it is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the wind!”

Then he became the wind, blowing tiles off the roofs of houses, uprooting trees, hated and feared by all below him. But after a while, he ran up against something that would not move, no matter how forcefully he blew against it — a huge, towering stone. “How powerful that stone is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a stone!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a stone!”

Then he became the stone, more powerful than anything else on earth. But as he stood there, he heard the sound of a hammer pounding a chisel into the solid rock, and felt himself being changed. “What could be more powerful than I, the stone?” he thought. He looked down and saw far below him the figure of a stonecutter.

Source | Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh, pages  118-119

PONDER AND CONSIDER

More is not enough! “The grass is always greener on the other side,” until you get there. It’s a matter of perspective. Satisfaction is a personal choice. Why don’t you choose to green up your own grass rather than hopping that fence?

This story reminds me of a quote from T.S. EliotLittle Gidding (the last of his Four Quartets): “At the end of all our searching we will arrive at the place we began and know it for the first time.”

HOW THE POOR LIVE

One day, a father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the firm purpose of showing his son how poor people live. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family. On their return from their trip, the father asked his son, “How was the trip?”

“It was great, Dad.”

“Did you see how poor people live?” the father asked.

“Oh yeah,” said the son.

“So, tell me, what did you learn from the trip?” asked the father.

The son answered, “I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden, and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden, and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard, and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on, and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us; they have friends to protect them.”

The boy’s father was speechless.

Then his son added, “Thanks, Dad, for showing me how poor we are.”

Source | Unknown

PONDER AND CONSIDER

  • The earth is generous and abundant in its giving. It’s we human beings with our fear of scarcity that end up blocking the flow of abundance.
  • Poverty is not measured in our wallets and bank accounts, but in our minds. There are very rich people who are poor.  And there are very poor people who are rich!