I, like many of us, have a dickens of a time with failure and misfortune. I can’t handle or tolerate either very well.
But I believe all of us can learn.
In the early 80’s, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa.
I lived in a small community deep in the interior.
My neighbor, Bey, worked as a laborer on a nearby sugar cane farm. He, and his large family, lived in a makeshift dwelling consisting of four walls made up of scrap sheets of whatever could be found, and covered with a thatch roof.
But Bey had a dream. He wanted to build a real house.
Homes over there were made of mud building blocks, dried in the sun, stacked to form walls, then sealed by a coating of concrete, and covered by a roof of thatch.
A time consuming task, especially the drying out part.
Over several weeks, Bey had made a corner of his dream house about 6 foot high, with 2 walls extending about 12 feet out.
Then disaster struck. Though it wasn’t the the rainy season, a monsoon rainstorm hit during the night, and washed the walls into a mud pile.
The next morning I went outside to convey my sympathies.
I found the entire family dancing in celebration.
I asked another neighbor what the heck was going on?
“Oh, you must understand – to have your first efforts destroyed like this, is a blessing from the gods! It means your home, once built again, will stand even stronger, and be filled with happiness and prosperity.”
A couple days later, Bey, with renewed hope and determination, began the process all over again.
Weeks again went by and he soon had an even bigger start.
Then, during the night, another out of season monsoon hit.
To my mind, not only had his latest efforts been for naught, but now he had the added pain of having his philosophic belief deeply challenged. The gods had not fulfilled their promise.
Again I went outside to offer my sympathies.
And, again, I found the family dancing and celebrating.
I questioned my other neighbor, explaining, “How can they be happy? Not only did they once again lose everything . . . but this time even the promise of the gods had been broken!”
Smiling at my ignorance, my neighbor replied, “Oh no. You have it wrong. Losing the first house meant the next would be stronger, more enduring, and filled with happiness. But now, to be blessed a second time. Well, the next will be doubly so! Bey is unbelievably fortunate.”
I couldn’t argue with this.
This was one very effective and healthy way of coping with what is often interpreted as failureand misfortune.
And I believe this to be a valuable lesson from a culture that has had more than their share of both.
And so, I offer this sincere wish.
May all of us be blessed with many unexpected rainstorms in our lives.
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