August 26, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 348

Who's To Say:

"That's So Bad..."

Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City, August 26--There's an old story that floats about regarding a farmer and his son that takes place prior to the Civil War.   The farmer raised horses.   One day, his only son left the corral ajar and all the horses ran away.   Neighbors, knowing the farmer's livelihood was based on his stock, came to express their regrets.  "That's too bad," they chimed.  "Your farm is ruined."
        The old farmer reportedly took a chaw of tobacco, studied the ring of sad faces and replied--"Who's to say that's so bad...?"
        Confused, the neighbors scratched their heads and left, puzzled why the old farmer wasn't upset, sad and angry at the world for his loss.
        A few days later the herd of mares who escaped were seen on the horizon.  They were trotting back to the farm, and with them was a great wild stallion, a perfect stud male who would insure the breeding of a fine line of horses for many years.

       The old farmer reportedly smiled, and said to himself, "Who's to say that's so bad."
        The farm was happy and prosperous for years.  Then one day, the farmer's son was thrown while breaking a horse and his leg badly mangled, turning him into a cripple.   Again, the neighbors gathered around the old farmer and issued their condolences.  Without the son to help him run the farm, they were sure the farm would degenerate.
       "That's so bad," they commiserated.
       "Who's to say that's so bad," replied the farmer, his eyes bright.  "Who's to say..."
       Again, the neighbors shrugged and walked away, wondering once more why the farmer wasn't mad at God or his lot in life.   After all, his only son was now a cripple and his ability to work his livestock dramatically reduced.
       Not long after the crippling of his son, the Civil War broke out.  All the young men in the town were conscripted to fight except for one, the crippled son of the farmer.
       "It's too bad your son can't fight for his country like ours," commented his neighbors proudly.
       "Who's to say that's so bad," the farmer replied in the same, clear-eyed manner that startled those seeking to feel sympathy for the farmer.


       As the war dragged on and finally ended, none of the sons of the other men returned.  They had all been killed, all, that is, save one, the farmer's crippled son, who had learned from his father to say, "Who's to say that's so bad."

                                    * * * * *                      

       This story has stuck with me for many years.  I like it because it suggests that our lives are a two-sided coin--on one side is the darkness and sadness of Terrorism, on the other, the bright hope of Vigilance.
        The farmer's neighbors saw only the Terror-embossed side of the coin.  They looked only at "what appeared" to be the present, and blinded themselves to the future.   Their myopic view led them to a state of Complacency, or rather a sense of futility because the present became the future, time froze in the turmoil of the moment.  
        Conversely, the farmer took the Vigilant View.   He saw the other side of the coin--the embossing that shines hope on the future.  He saw the coin of circumstance as representing that none of us has the power to say that something bad in our lives may not ultimately turn out for the good--if we keep our eyes and hearts open to that possibility.

         Recently, a close friend of mine was telling me about her mother.   It seems for years, her mother's father had molested her nightly, from age seven to age fourteen.   Her mother kept this secret from her two daughters until events in her life bore so heavily that she broke down and shared the secret with one of them, my friend.
        Her mother's life wasn't a happy one.   The mother's husband, while a good father to his children, was prone to infidelities, causing her mother great pain.  The pains of the father's frequent molestations and the husband's infidelities were buried deep in her soul.    

       Then her mother contracted cancer, adding to her woes.  She also lost her job.   Her life seemed in ruins.  In utter depression, she broke down and shared with my friend her troubles, and the sadnesses  that turned her goal of living a happy life into a book of  physical and emotional Terrorism.  Her mother was weary of the seemingly never ending sorrows.

        I was walking back from the grocery store with my friend, a mother of two young children, helping her carry groceries.   We had bumped into one another while I was shopping.  As she related  the gruesome story of her mother's travails I listened and then said, "Who's to say that's so bad?"
       Startled, my friend stopped and queried me.  "What do you mean?   My poor mother is a total victim.  Her life has been about people walking on her."
       I then told her the story about the old farmer and his crippled son.
       "I don't understand," she said.  "What has that to do with my mother?"
       "What if everything that happens us to in life, good and bad, has a reason behind it," I offered.
       "What could be good about my mother feeling terrible, violated, victimized," she asked.
       "Perhaps all those things had a reason.   Take you, for example.   You are a wonderful person.  You embody all the best qualities of a human being.   What if all the pain and suffering your mother endured was to protect you from harm?   What if all the anguish your mother went through had a purpose to give you the beautiful outlook you have on life?"
       "Then I wouldn't want it if it cost my mother her happiness," she said.  
       "Of course you wouldn't," I answered.  "That's why you are a beautiful person.   You were blessed with a special gift of caring for everyone in the world, and that ability to love life unconditionally came from your mother.  Perhaps she shielded you from the horrors she experienced so that you could see the world as she wanted to, as she was deprived from seeing and living.   Perhaps if she had not undergone all the suffering in her life, she would not have been driven to give you the gift you have.  Perhaps she was robbed of her innocence so that you might develop yours, under her guidance."

       "But that is such an awful price," she replied.  "I would never want to think all her suffering was just for me.  That would make me party to her Terror.   I'm not sure I like what you're saying."
       "Who's to say that's so bad," I answered.  "Maybe it's okay for you to not like it.  But you had nothing to do with the cause.   But you were the recipient of the effect.   The farmer's son left the gate open.  He caused the loss of the horses.   But the effect, the return of the mares with the stallions, that had nothing to do with the boy's actions.   It was the universe, or God's will, if you care to look at it religiously, in operation."
       "But why would God or life make one suffer to provide another happiness.  It seems cruel, unfair."

    "Maybe not," I said.  "Maybe life deals us hands that we can play a variety of ways.   No matter what happens to us, we can either learn and grow from the worst of experiences, or we can choose to wallow in the sadness and suffering and drown ourselves in our self pity, in the Terror of being beaten up by life.   Maybe God gives us a choice to deal with the tragedies in life instead of causing them.   If He or She were the cause, then He or She would be the Devil not God.   But if He or She is here to help us pull ourselves out of the muck and mire, then that's another issue.  It's about hope in the future rather than suffering in the present or past."

      "I'm not following how my mother's molestation or her troubled marriage offers any hope for the future?"
       "Look at your children.   Your mother helps you care take them.   She issues to your children incredible hope in the future.  She guards their innocence.  She respects every cell in their bodies, and loves them with such passion that her life's greatest beauty is expressed in their joy when they see her, when they are with her.    What if part of all your mother's suffering was designed to give your children an incredible fountain of love, something only one who had suffered such a horrible childhood and failed expectations in marriage as she has had could offer?   Would that be so bad?"
       "It wouldn't be bad for me or the kids, but it would be totally unfair--an injustice to her.  I would rather have her have lived a love-filled life of her own."
       "Who's to say that if nothing had happened to your mother, if her father had been wonderful, and her husband had been wonderful, whose to say she would have been happy?   We cannot know that, can we?"
       My friend paused.  "No, but the odds would be greater that she could have been happy."
       "Perhaps," I said, "but we cannot say that for sure.   Your mother might have taken another route in life.   She might have gone in another direction that could have ended in far more disastrous ends than where she is at today."
       "Or," my friend quickly replied, "She could have lived a totally happy life, free from any pain and anguish."
       "Maybe.  But few people, if any, live life without suffering pain and anguish.   Life is about learning.  And learning only comes through pain, in all different degrees.   But the key point is, 'Who's to say that's so bad.'"

 "It just seems that she's been abandoned.  She feels that way today.   She feels alone, disenfranchised."
        "That's one viewpoint.   Think of the neighbors comments about the farmer when his son was crippled.   All they saw was the pain. 

Your mother is full of love.  Look at you and your sister, two beautiful young women with great outlooks on life.   You reflect the best in your mother, don't you?"
         "Well, yes."
        "Maybe, just maybe in the great design of things in this world, your mother's mission was to protect you and your sister from harm.  Maybe she took upon her shoulders all the worst imaginable suffering a woman could endure to protect her children from such harm.   Would any mother sacrifice herself for her children?  Would you sacrifice your happiness for your children's joy?"
        My friend pondered the question.  "Yes, of course.  But my mother didn't have a choice in being molested, or about my father's infidelity.   She was a victim in both cases.  She didn't make a choice.  She was powerless."
        "I understand that," I said.   "The farmer was powerless too when his horses ran away, and when his son's leg was mangled, and when the Civil War broke out.   But he kept his eye to the Vigilant Horizon.   When others crowded around him to say, "That's so bad," he climbed over the Wall of Terrorism and bet his chips on Vigilance--he shunned the Terror of the Moment for the Vigilance in the Future.  Who's to say that's so bad?--that was his creed."
        "Are you suggesting that everything bad that happens to people ends up for the good?"

    "No.  I'm sure there are people who don't see the Vigilant Horizon in the midst of the quagmire of Terror.  They are like the animal caught in a trap.  Their only alternative  to escape is to gnaw off their foot.   They don't know how to say, 'Who's to say that's so bad?'  But I do believe that no matter what the tragedies we face in life, we can rise above them if we are Vigilant.  The farmer held fast to his belief that there was more good than bad in life, more Vigilance than Terrorism.   He held the reigns tight on that issue, while others around him sank to the lowest depths of the suffering, the pain.  I believe because the farmer saw more Vigilance in the worst of things than Terror, that the universe rewarded him."
        "That sounds  mystical to me."
        "Everything that happens in life is unpredictable.  No one can say doing this will guarantee that.   We have this thing called destiny at work, some call it God's will."
        "You mean, God wanted my mother to be molested, wanted her husband to break marriage vows, wanted my mother to suffer cancer, to feel victimized, unloved, shunned, abandoned?   If that's true, then God isn't a very nice guy or gal."
        "I don't think God is the cause of anything that happens to us.   He or She puts us here to use our choice, our belief, our faith.   Your mother was a victim.  She had no choice in the events that happened to her, just as the farmer had no choice about what happened to his son.   But she has a choice about how she sees the world as a result of the tragedies in her life--we all do. "  I paused and shifted my grocery bags.  The plastic bag handles were cutting the circulation around my wrists. 
         "We can look at Nine Eleven," I continued, "and see a horrible tragedy, a sad ugliness, a scar on our country's soul--or, we can look at the events as a starting point, a point of debarkation between living in a world of Terror and living in a world of Vigilance.   We can see the 'victims' of Nine Eleven not as 'innocent victims,' but as Sentinels of Vigilance, who died to protect us from future harm, to give us tools to fight Terrorism of both Emotional and Physical nature.   We can walk around sad and angry and want to bomb and kill the enemy in far away lands, or we can take inventory of what happened and change our lives, become more Vigilant in all our thinking and actions and focus on the real benefactor of all tragedies--the children..   The Terrorists who attacked your mother throughout her life--her father, her husband, cancer, the people at her work who let her go--may all have had some part in a great play that ends up with joy and happiness as the result.   Let me ask you this--do you think your mother has added joy and happiness to your life?  To your children's lives?  To your sister's life?"

         "Yes, of course, but at such a cost? 

         "Who's to say that's so bad," I replied.  "Hope, is what life is all about--at least for me.   I hope that all the bad things in life have a reason.  So, I look for them.  I don't always find them, not immediately.   But I will surmise in your mother's case, that all the suffering she underwent was not for naught.   I see the beauty of her life expressed in you and your sister and your children.    I see your incredible ability to love life, and to love your children as extensions of the love your mother gave you.  She might not have had it to give were it not for circumstances in her life that no one would wish upon anyone.  But history cannot be changed, it can only be a stepping stone to making the future safer, more secure.    I see the same situation with Nine Eleven.   There was so much suffering, pain and anguish that it shrouded one's vision to find good out of the bad.  But, if we don't look for, find, and apply the best of the worst, then we lose.   We suffer in the suffering.  We nail our feet in the horror.  We Terrorize the Terror."
        "So, are you saying the bad that happened to my mother was good?"
        "No.  I'm saying out of the worst of situations comes lessons.  And if we take the lesson of the worst situation and apply it to life, we are acting Vigilantly.   If we ignore the lesson and continue to suffer, we become our own Terrorists.  The statement, Who's To Say That's So Bad, is a Vigilance Exclamation, it's not an act of concession, not a surrender to Complacency.  Who's To Say That's So Bad translates to 'where's the pony in the pile of manure?'"
        "Pony?  Manure?"
        "Sorry.  There is another story about a couple of twins who were so different their mother took them to a child psychologist.   The psychologist told the boys he was going to put them in a room where there was a pony, and their job was to find the pony because it was hidden.  In went the first twin.   The room had a two-way mirror so the mother and psychologist could watch.  The room was filled with all kinds of toys shelves, drawers and in the middle, a giant pile of manure.   The first twin looked everywhere and then came out disgruntled, angry, and said:  'There's nothing in that room but a pile of manure,' he griped.  Then the second twin went in.  He surveyed the room and then made an immediate dash to the pile of manure and began digging through it, muttering as he did, 'I know...I just know there's a pony in here somewhere.'   Some find Hope in a rainbow, some find it buried in a pile of manure."
       "Are you saying that if my mother looks for the lessons from her tragic life, she'll be glad she underwent all the suffering?  That's absurd, I think."
       "No, I'm not saying that.   No one deserves to suffer, but we do.   No one deserves to be a victim, but we are.  Life is full of potholes.   Some are more devastating than others.   What I am saying is that we can't change the past or present but we can the future. 

      We can take the lessons of yesterday and today into tomorrow.   We can apply them to our benefit.  Obviously your mother has brought love and happiness to others.  Just look a yourself and your children.  She's brought all the beauty out of you and your sister, and is now bringing it out of your grandchildren.   She's giving the gift of life she was deprived as a child to your children, as she did to you and your sister."
      "That's a bit of a stretch, but I understand.  It just doesn't seem to justify the pain."    

      "Nothing justifies the pain.   That's the point.   The pain and lesson aren't attached.  They come from different sources.  Pain comes from Terrorism.  Lessons from Vigilance.  What happens in a person's life after the pain is not a direct link to the pain.  It is a choice.  A choice to learn from the pain, or to be stunted by it.   Your mother learned from her pain about how to love her children and grandchildren.  Maybe she'll use her experiences to help others who suffer as she did.  Maybe she hasn't yet fulfilled her destiny in life completely.   Perhaps she'll become a champion of protecting children from family molestations.  Or, she'll become a counselor for cancer patients, or those suffering from Terrorisms she is most familiar with.   Or, maybe she'll just bury all the pain and keep suffering.   No one knows.   Only your mother can chose her Vigilance or her continued Terrorism."
      "But, she's unhappy.  Her life is still screwed up."
      "Who's to say that's so bad?"
      "I still don't understand."

       "Maybe she's growing and you don't see it.  Maybe she's learning to find happiness in ways you don't yet comprehend.   Remember, one day the farmer's horses were gone, the next day they appeared.  One day the farmer's son was a cripple, the next day he was alive while others were dead.   Vigilance, if it is sought, happens.   Perhaps your mother is closer to being happy in her life than she's ever been, and you don't know it, and perhaps she doesn't know it--yet.   It goes back to the farmer's principle of Vigilance--Who's To Say That's So Bad!"
       "Hmmmmmm...."  My friend was either tired of our conversation or letting the points sink in, I wasn't sure.   "Thanks for helping me carry the groceries," she said.   'I'll think about what you said."
       "So will I," I replied, handing her the bags at the door to her apartment.

  As I walked back toward my apartment,  I noted swarms of people walking with their heads down, shoulders slumped, moving as though the yoke of life was about to grind them into the sidewalk.   I looked at their faces, most of which were frozen in a dead-end stare, eyes locked on a single path, seeking to go from point A to point B and hoping nothing would get in the way.

                           But everything was in everyone's way.   Parking meters formed a slalom course, forcing people to veer to the right or left of them as they came upon deli's with vegetable stands in front and shoppers blocking their path.   People walking three abreast forced those enroute to their B destination to swerve around them, or slow so they didn't run them over.   Cracks in the sidewalk made some stumble and falter their pace.   Strollers cut wide swaths.   Just walking down the street was not simple.  It wasn't a journey from A to B at all, but one that included the entire alphabet, including sudden appearances of street bums with paper cups asking for money, the wail of sirens trying to charge through congested traffic,  beeping horns of impatient drivers, the click, click of street light boxes mechanically grinding out STOP-CAUTION-GO.

       Life's journey and a walk on a crowded sidewalk in New York City weren't too different, I thought.   There was the constant unexpected to be expected, the demand for Vigilance to keep one from being "victimized" by some event that could occur in the blink of an eye--a stray bullet, a car out of control jumping the curb, a chunk of concrete falling from ten stories above, a mugger appearing suddenly..   Nothing was constant.  Everything was in flux.  Life was in flux, dancing on the thin strands of Vigilance and Terrorism.
      I wondered if my friend thought I was being fatalistic in my viewpoints about Who's To Say That's So Bad.  I wasn't trying to be flippant, or gloss over the terrible ordeal of her mother.   I was preaching to the choir.  I was reminding myself  that life is full of hope and beauty if I chose to look for it, to wait for it, to believe in it.  I knew it was for my friend's mother, for all who live in the shadow of the Beast of Terror.

         But climbing out of Terror's Pity Pit wasn't an easy task.  I'd nailed myself to my cross many times.  I knew Vigilance takes Courage, Conviction and Right Actions to come to fruition.    Sometimes, it seemed impossible for me to conjure up those three ingredients some call faith, others call destiny..   But I knew if life was worth living, there must be at least one percent more good than bad to come from any of the Terrorisms we encounter on our journey through life.  If there wasn't hope, Hitler would have won.  Osama bin Laden wouldn't be on the run, and all the churches, synagogues and mosques in the world would crumble..  
      I stood on the corner of my street, watching the traffic lights change:
In sync with the traffic lights, danced the pedestrian signs--
Walk!     Don't Walk!
     Walk!     Don't Walk!
          Walk!    Don't Walk!

      Maybe, I thought, life is all about the traffic lights.    
                Walk!   Don't Walk!

      Then I thought, "Who's to say that's so bad?"

Go To Aug 25--Heroes of Terrorism vs. Heroes of Vigilance

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