That’s good, that’s bad
When I was little and my dad called me and my brother little duckies (the entire childhood period that is after diapers are done but before the teens set in) he would play a little game with us when ever we complained. After hearing that our toe was sore, a toy broke or Jimmy Carter usurped our nighttime tv show, he would intone “Thats Bad!” Then we were to state something else and he would proclaim “Thats good!” To us it didn’t really seem that he determined rightly the goodness or badness of the situation, he just declared the opposite of whatever he said last. Sometimes the bad good determination was more in line with what we thought, others it was based on some mathematical pattern mysterious to our elementary school brains. Either way it was loud and with the kind of voice projection that would be entirely embarrassing if in public, but if in the living room in pajamas while jumping around was a sort of treat to see how long we could draw it out.
“I brought home two IMS math cards from school today.”
“I got second place in wrestling and beat all the boys.”
“no dad, that’s not bad that’s good”
He would just keep going at unpredictable patterns. In ways this was done to tease us. This is a man who would intentionally touch the cats tongue during a yawn; something that obviously annoyed her to no end. Playing That’s-good-That’s-bad is an easy extension of that. Simultaneously I think that there were real lessons in his intent. Yes to calmly ignore someone intent on making you nuts is a good lesson but also that you just can’t read life as you first think it, or you may be proven wrong later.
I have been reading pronoia. My last few posts have been inspired by concepts in the book. Page 73 is dedicated to the following taoist story:
This farmer had only one horse, and one day the horse ran away. The neighbors came to condole over his terrible loss. The farmer said, “What makes you think it is so terrible?”
A month later, the horse came home–this time bringing with her two beautiful wild horses. The neighbors became excited at the farmer’s good fortune. Such lovely strong horses! The farmer said, “What makes you think this is good fortune?”
The farmer’s son was thrown from one of the wild horses and broke his leg. All the neighbors were very distressed. Such bad luck! The farmer said, “What makes you think it is bad?”
A war came, and every able-bodied man was conscripted and sent into battle. Only the farmer’s son, because he had a broken leg, remained. The neighbors congratulated the farmer. “What makes you think this is good?” said the farmer.
I liked this story so I used it for a formatting exercise for my web design class. Since then I have been thinking about what it takes to be able to ride the goods and bads of life with the same enthusiasm. I would like to take on problems with the same zeal as fortune, after all isn’t that what is the catalyst for more personal growth. I would like to be able to see the “That’s-good-That’s-bad” in equal measure to every pass the universe tosses at me. But I can not see that the speeding ticket that will cost me $180 saved me from a crash that would end my life. I can’t know that the slow person in line in front of me actually kept me from meeting a caustic psychic vampire of a person, that I would be unstoppable attracted too, and who would slowly eat my savings, retirement funds and eventually steal my new phone.
As I grew I became more rebellious with my father. I could say that I saw more clearly his faults, but the reality is that I knew them intimately even at six, probably before. I think that as I grew up I became angrier at him for them, maybe this paralleled when I started realizing what “parent” in our society was supposed to be, and was miffed at the reality. In my rallies and stubborn mental wars I remember a particular one where he was defending faith in the church, and specifically a catholic variety church. He proposed adherence to all things traditional even in light of their recent and long ago failures. He called this faith, and used that word as if it explained everything. I could not, would not swallow it. In a house with a mouse in a box on a fox. There was just no way, ever, I was buying faith over what I saw, what could be proven. I was the kind of girl who was very mathematical. I could explain to him why you can’t divide by zero by the age of 12 and he, could not explain faith. To me then, it all must have been a cop out if it can’t be proven.
Now my brother and I are no little duckies I can assure you. He is a more moderately statured Larry Bird look-a-like with a second wife, three kids and a parvo surviving shelter dog. I am pushing forty and use a regime of yoga, hiking and dancing to avoid that duck like figure. After the time and meditation on the subject in a different albeit new-agey light, I can totally appreciate the concept of faith. Faith can be knowing that you can not judge “That’s-good-thats-bad.” Both of those things intertwine in a tangled mess of your current reality, to make your future reality and that the world is giving you everything you need. If you pay the right attention, every fantastic thing has stemmed from something you rued at first and every bad fortune is likely the result of something celebrated. Faith can be smiling at everything that happens to you, or at least not ripping your hair out over it.
So I am starting to grok faith a little bit. My version has a pronoia disco ball vest instead of vestments and feels divine.