Humans do not see the big picture. We see only fragmentary slices of it, and the true effect of events only becomes apparent as time passes. The temptation to rush to judgment is strong, but we are well advised to resist it.
The last post talked about how even those we think enemies can be proven something else, with time. Maybe they can never do enough to make up for their “sins,” but they can surprise us just the same. And often the apparent harm they inflicted will eventually be seen to have shaped us in some vital way, and granted us unexpected treasure.
This truth is part of a larger reality: it is hazardous to judge anything or anyone. We don’t know how life will unfold.
There is the story of the village wise man who responds neutrally to every proclamation given by a neighbor:
After the peasant suffers the death of his only ox, he complains to the sage: “This is a terrible thing, it’s springtime and I need to till the land. My family will starve come fall. My life is ruined!”
The wise man responds: “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
Furious at this response, the farmer stomps away in disgust. Unable to plant his crops, he has nothing to do but wander aimlessly. Suddenly, deep in the wilds, he comes upon a powerful horse wandering free. He captures it and is able to plow the field in record time. “I’m so glad my ox died; that’s why I found my new horse. This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me!”
Wise man: “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
The villager is confused and frustrated at this, but that afternoon his son mounts the horse, tears off in a gallop, falls, and breaks a leg. Now the poor farmer despairs because he needs his son’s help in the fields. He complains to the sage: “What a catastrophe!”
“Maybe yes, maybe no.”
The man again misunderstands until the king’s army marches into town the next day. The soldiers conscript all the young men of the village except the injured son, who is spared from a doomed battle and certain death.
At last, the farmer grasps the utter unpredictability of fate, and the foolishness of judgment.
It used to seem that the abusive and grief-saturated upbringing that formed me had robbed me of happiness. Never feeling safe, never feeling contented, lacking self-esteem, I groped through my early life trying to recover. No matter what I tried, depression and low self-esteem haunted me. I blamed my childhood, and especially my stepmother. After all, she had regularly tormented me with unrelenting abuse until I collapsed emotionally in terror and despair. Who wouldn’t grow up to suffer lingering mood issues after such mistreatment?
One effect of this psychological torture was that I entered adulthood with extremely reactive emotions. I admit, my genetic background probably would have made me a sensitive person anyway, but the repeated severe trauma strongly heightened my affective responses. I felt bad about this quality, especially as my youthful fury wore out and I was left with middle-aged grief. What man feels good about crying almost daily?
And that’s the point. Now I do feel good about it. Granted, I no longer cry so frequently, but I weep easily and sometimes at rather minor things. In fact, my emotions are swift, powerful, and exquisite in both their highs and their lows. Now that meditation and wise counsel have taught me to better modulate my behavior than in my younger years, these swings of feeling are not problems. It has become fairly easy for me to avoid impulsive decisions, and I succeed pretty well at not acting out my feelings. By embracing my emotions and moods with equanimity, I intimately connect with the world of suffering. And by allowing suffering to penetrate, I open myself to its parallel universe of bliss.
It is not easy to convey how tenderly and awesomely I hold both heartache and beauty in my heart. At this point in my life I understand how the emotional reactivity that caused me so many problems, that often left me feeling like a wrecked human being, has become a source of profound peace and clarity. It reveals to me the chaotic and elegant mystery of life, with its endless reversals of sorrow and joy, tragedy and comedy, death and birth.
So did child abuse ruin me, after all? Was it entirely a curse? Or was it, in some completely unexpected way, also a Grace?