The Old Woman and Her Horse

The Old Woman and Her Horse

by Shellen Lubin

December 4, 2020

Once there was an old woman who lived in a small village. Although poor, she was envied by all, for she owned a beautiful, white horse. A horse like this everyone wanted — such majesty and strength. People offered great wealth for the steed, but the old woman always refused. “This horse is not a horse to me, he is a friend, not a possession. How could you sell a friend?” The woman was poor and suffered greatly. But she never sold the horse.
One morning she found that the horse was not in his stable. All the village said, “You old fool, look at you now. It would have been better to have sold him. You could have gotten whatever price you wanted. Now the horse is gone and you’ve been cursed.” But the old woman responded, “Don’t speak too quickly. All you know is the horse is not in the stable. The rest is judgment. How can you judge?” “Don’t make us out to be fools!” they contested. “The simple fact that your horse is gone is a curse.”  “All I know is that the stable is empty, and the horse is gone. Whether it be a curse or a blessing, I can’t say. Who knows what will come next?”  They laughed at her. They thought she was crazy. They had always thought she was a fool; if she weren’t, she would have sold the horse and lived off the money. Now she had proven that she was, indeed, a fool.
After fifteen days, the horse returned. He hadn’t been stolen; he had run into the forest. And he brought a dozen wild horses back with him. “Oh,” the villagers said, “you were right. What we thought was a curse was a blessing.” She shook her head, “Once again, you go too far. Say only that the horse is back. State only that a dozen horses returned with him, but how do you know if this is a blessing or not? You see only a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge? You read only one page of a book. Do you know the whole book? Life is so vast.” “Maybe the old woman is right,” they said to one another. But down deep, they were sure she was wrong.
The old woman had a son, an only son. The young man began to break the wild horses for his mother. After a few days, he fell from one of the horses and broke both legs. Once again the villagers cast their judgments.“You were right, the dozen horses were not a blessing. They were a curse. Your only son has broken both his legs, and now you have no one to help you.”  The old woman spoke again. “Say only that my son broke his legs. Who knows if it is a blessing or a curse? No one knows. We only have a fragment. Life comes in fragments.”
A few weeks later, the country engaged in war against a neighboring country.  All the young men of the village were required to join the army. There was little chance that they would return. The enemy was strong, and the war would be a losing battle. They would never see their sons again. Only the son of the old woman was excluded, because he was injured. The people of the village gathered, crying and screaming because their sons had been taken. “You were right, old woman,” They wept. “Your son’s accident was a blessing. His legs may be broken, but at least he is with you. Our sons are gone forever.”

The old woman spoke again. “You always draw conclusions, but they may or may not be true. All you can say is your sons had to go to war, and mine did not. You cannot know if it is a blessing or a curse. We may never truly know. Who can ever be sure — what is a blessing and what is a curse?”

Based on an old Chinese proverb

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