She’s learned that her eldest son has developed a drinking problem.
To the daughter of an alcoholic father and survivor of an alcoholic marriage this comes as devastating news.
“It’s always been my worst fear,” she says numbly. “I feel like I can never be happy again.”
The other members try to reassure her, but you can tell they’ve no idea what to say.
There’s a Zen story I want to tell her. But I’m tired tonight, and though I remember the point of the story I can’t for the life of me remember the details. So instead I ask a question.
“Is this a good thing or a bad thing?”
She looks startled.
“My son’s addiction?”
“It’s a terrible thing,” she says.
“Are you sure?” I ask.
She stares blankly.
“Would it surprise you to hear,” I go on, “that when I was training as an alcoholism counselor I attended AA meetings where people stood up and thanked God for their addiction?”
“Yes, that’s how I felt. Took me a while to understand. I finally realized they were grateful because their addiction taught them stuff they needed to learn, important stuff they would never have learned otherwise. You know, how some people say their heart attack taught them how to live healthier lives?”
“So as terrible as their addiction was, it was also a good thing in disguise. You might try thinking in this way about what’s happening with your son. Maybe, in a weird way, this will teach him something he needs to learn. Maybe it will be a good thing in disguise.”
She looks relieved.
“Maybe,” she says.
Which is ironic. Because that happens to be the title of the Zen story that I wanted to tell her.
There was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Maybe,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “Maybe,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. Again the neighbors came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” said the farmer.