When my son was little, I used to read to him every night before bed. One of his favorite books – and he had many favorites – was Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth. It’s a book about a giant panda named Stillwater, who mysteriously appears on the doorstep of a family of three children. Stillwater spends time with each of the children and tells them a fable that is meant to address their particular growing pains – for the older boy it was dealing with frustration, for the eldest, a girl, the tale dealt with the true value of material possessions, and for the youngest son, a lesson in “good luck” vs. “bad luck” – it’s all about perspective.
I must have read this book at least a hundred times in the year or so that it was in our favorites rotation, I always loved the simplicity of the stories and the ease in which Stillwater imparted his message – always in a gentle way that let the child come to a natural conclusion – it was never preachy or felt forced.
I was reminded of the book – and in particular the “good luck”/”bad luck” story this weekend. In that story, a farmer’s horse runs away, and his neighbors cry, “What a stroke of bad luck!” But the farmer looks at it from another perspective, “Maybe…” he said, and the next day, the horse returned bringing two wild horses with it – “What good luck!” the neighbors cry. “Maybe…,” said the farmer. The story goes on like that for a while before the boy comes to the conclusion that “maybe good luck and bad luck are all mixed up.”
This weekend, I had a series of mixed up good luck/bad luck moments. I was feeling sick on Thursday and knew that a sinus infection was brewing – I called my doctor’s office to make an appointment for Friday afternoon and the receptionist told me that they had walk in-hours on Thursday evening until 8pm. Bad luck that I was under the weather, good luck that a doctor could see me right away.
I had an appointment to take my son into New York City to a very special violin shop purchase his new instrument. He had been looking forward to it for a few weeks and I was planning on taking him in on Friday regardless of being sick. Good luck struck again when my husband came home from work on Thursday night (after I returned from the doc with my prescription!) and told me that his boss had given the entire department Friday off to get a jump on the long weekend – and he was thrilled to be able to take our son to the music shop while I stayed at home and rested. As a special bonus, they went to the Intrepid Museum in NY and had a wonderful father/son lunch.
On Saturday, my son had a baseball game that was cancelled. Bad luck. But I was able to get him a long overdue haircut and grab a smoothie with my favorite little guy. Baseball cancelled = bad luck (double for my son because he had to undergo a torturous haircut), but good luck that we were able to go out for a smoothie and spend some time together.
On Sunday we decided to catch a baseball game and scored some cheap seats at the last-minute online. We hit traffic, arrived late, and the game had already begun, (bad luck?) only to learn that it was a double-header – two games for the price of one! (good luck!!)
I won’t bore you with every little detail of our weekend, but the bottom line is this: everything is a matter of perspective – you can look at the crap or you can look at the silver lining (and I admit, sometimes that silver lining is very, very faint…but it IS there). So, thank you, Stillwater, for your wisdom and sharing your perspective with us – your message resonated with me and I hope a wisp of your tales linger in the mind of my son too.
Here’s a YouTube Video of a man reading this wonderful book to his children. It’s a little difficult to see the beautiful watercolor illustrations, so if you enjoy it, you might want to order it from your favorite bookseller.