Maybe

Lately, I have been thinking a lot of a taoist story I read in my twenties. I wish I could find the original source – looking for it online, I see it many times with no source quoted. It’s also often described as a “positive taoist story.” Is it?

The Taoist farmer lived in a small town in China. People were poor there, and didn’t have any luxuries. One day, the farmer’s horse ran away. Because the town was small, everybody in town knew what had happened. They all came running to the farmer, who was hoeing his field. “That is so terrible, so terrible!” they exclaimed. “Maybe”, said the farmer.

The next day, his son went out to search for the horse. At the end of the day, the farmer was working in his field when his son came home with four horses! Everybody in town came running to the farmer. “That is so amazing. You are so lucky! What good fortune!” they exclaimed. “Maybe,” said the farmer, continuing to work his field.

The son worked to train those wild horses. It was a hard job, and he worked steadily. One day, he was trying to ride one of the new horses, when the horse threw him, and he fell. He was badly hurt. The doctor treated him for a broken leg. Now the son could no longer help with the farm chores. All the neighbors came right over to the farmer, pouring out their consolations. “That is too bad.” “Oh, you were so unlucky.” “How terrible it is that your son was hurt.” The farmer continued planting his seeds and responded, “Maybe”.

About a month later, the king declared war on the nearby territory. All young men were obliged to serve in the army. As the neighbor lads marched off to the war, some of the parents came to the farmer. “You are so lucky. Your son has a broken leg, and can’t serve in the army.” The farmer continued working his field. “Maybe,” was his reply.

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