By Judy Marshall, Ph.D.

[En español]

(A Chinese/Zen Fable, as told by Judy Marshall)

There once was an old farmer who lived in a remote region of the mainland, where the terrain is rough and the villagers manage to eek out a meager existence only through hard work and the grace of God. One day someone left the gate open on the farmer’s pasture, and his only horse ran away. Now, this was a very grave situation indeed, as in these parts it is said that one horse is worth ten sons or the earnings of a lifetime. The villagers, hearing of this great loss, came to console the farmer. With pity in their eyes of those who are glad it did not happen to them, the villagers shook their heads and moaned in unison that the running off of a horse is a terrible thing. The farmer, who was very wise, accepted their consolations and shaking his head, muttered calmly, “We'll just wait and see.”

Within a week the horse had returned, bringing with it three wild ponies of such magnificence only heard of in the ancient fables. The villagers all came to witness and marvel at these wondrous creatures, and some brought gifts in the hope of incurring favor, as now the farmer was a very rich man. With envy in their eyes, the villagers applauded the farmer for his good fortune. But the farmer appeared unmoved and, showing neither pride nor excitement, accepted their blessings, stating calmly, “We'll just wait and see.”

Three days later after the villagers had gone home, the farmer’s only son was out breaking in the new ponies. Their magnificence was matched by an unexpected strength, and the second pony threw and trampled the farmer’s son, leaving him near dead with two broken legs. There were tears in the old peasant’s eyes as he carried his child off the field. The son survived the critical period, and his bones were set, but as the villagers gathered to hear the news and lend support, the doctor could not pronounce if the son would ever walk again. With eyes like smug rodents whose faith in themselves is confirmed when ill fortune attends to a lucky man, the villagers shook their heads, lamenting what a tragedy had occurred for the farmer, who now had a cripple for a son. The old farmer thanked them for their concern and condolences, calmly saying, “We'll just wait and see.”

The farmer’s son did begin to recuperate, but it took a long time. The farmer was now poorer than ever, as he had no son to accompany him in the fields, and no one wanted to buy the ponies because they were afraid. Yet, by the help of occasional gifts and his own labor, he managed to gather just enough to feed his family, always giving the best of whatever he had to his son to encourage his recuperation. During this time the other villagers flourished as much as poor villagers can, and as those who are better off are wont to do, they were generous with their sympathy for the farmer for having a crippled child.

For no reason that had anything to do with the village, the king from his palace far off in the capital city declared war on a neighboring country. That was how it came to be that in the spring, just as the old farmer’s son was taking his first steps, the government officials appeared with orders to conscript all the able-bodied young men into the army. The only son in the entire village who was not drafted was the old farmer’s.

“How lucky you are, old man! We are sending our children, our very seed off to war, probably to die,” one or another of the villagers yelled out as they bade farewell to their departing sons. Full of tears, their eyes showed no particular emotion toward the farmer, so overcome were they with their own grief.

The farmer watched the leave-taking, and his heart went out to the villagers, as he was a kind and compassionate man. He answered softly, “We'll just wait and see.”


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Judy Marshall
About Judy Marshall
California | United States

Dr. Judy Marshall received her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In thirty years of clinical practice in New York and Los Angeles, she has worked with many different groups, from children to the frail elderly, with particular interests including self-esteem, depression, sensitivity, and creativity.

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