And maybe the horse will sing.

I was reminded just now of a story I heard a long time ago. Looked it up so as to get it right…

Nasrudin was caught in the act and sentenced to die. Hauled up before the king, he was asked by the Royal Presence: “Is there any reason at all why I shouldn’t have your head off right now?” To which he replied: “Oh, King, live forever! Know that I, the mullah Nasrudin, am the greatest teacher in your kingdom, and it would surely be a waste to kill such a great teacher. So skilled am I that I could even teach your favorite horse to sing, given a year to work on it.”

The king was amused, and said: “Very well then, you move into the stable immediately, and if the horse isn’t singing a year from now, we’ll think of something interesting to do with you.”

As he was returning to his cell to pick up his spare rags, his cellmate remonstrated with him: “Now that was really stupid. You know you can’t teach that horse to sing, no matter how long you try.”

Nasrudin’s response: “Not at all. I have a year now that I didn’t have before. And a lot of things can happen in a year. The king might die. The horse might die. I might die.

“And, who knows? Maybe the horse will sing.”

That story meant a lot to me. Sometimes I called it the triumph of hope over despair. Sometimes the triumph of hope over experience. Sometimes, at the risk of seeming overdramatic, it kept me alive.

I have lived a long and often unpleasant life filled with many misfortunes. Most were painful; some were positively horrid. There were times when things got really bad, when I thought there was no point in going on. There were times when I thought the smartest thing I could do to deal with my troubles was blowjob my .45 and get the nightmare over with.

I never did that, obviously, and the reason I never did that was because as long as I was still alive there was still some chance that sometime, somehow, life might just possibly stop sucking so damned much. If I kept going, and if I kept open to what came.

And one great day, my chance came. And since then my life has been happy. Hard, sometimes, but happy.

I’m reminded of a friend. He’s smarter, prettier and far more gifted than I am but his enthusiasms seemed to drift, dropping one opportunity after another to chase (what I took as) some other dream. This went on for years: I began to fear that my friend’s doom was an inability to focus on any one thing to the point of success, until he would end a failure despite his many obvious virtues.

As usual, I was completely wrong. I judged him according to my own experience, imagining that he was drifting from chance to chance when what he was really doing was determinedly seeking the right chance. And when he found that chance, he latched onto it and drove it with energy and skill I never could have mustered. Now, more than a decade later, he’s prosperous and busy and – as far as I can tell – very, very happy.

It’s interesting to contrast the difference in our two lives. I bounced from mistake to mistake, drifting through despair until I found a means of escape and when I found it I determined that I would do anything – even get constructive – to make it stick. My friend was being constructive all along: He just took a while to find the one thing he most wanted to build.

We really only had one thing in common – we never gave up on the hope that at some point, despite the odds, if we kept at it, the horse might sing.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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8 Responses to And maybe the horse will sing.

  1. Edwin says:

    Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.

  2. Malatrope says:

    Now here is a sea change in this blog! Having nothing to post about in the physical world, you wander into something philosophical to post about in the idea world. And an interesting wander to boot!

    Keep this up, and you just might turn into the next Jack Kerouac…and the horse will be singing, in its way.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Ditto

  4. Tree Mike says:

    Nice change of pace. Glad you didn’t mishandle the 45. Bad times make interesting people.

  5. Robert says:

    Wow. Thank you for sharing that, Joel. It’s given me some perspective.

  6. Mark Matis says:

    The real question is from which end shall the horse “sing?”

  7. doubletrouble says:

    Wow- great post, Joel.
    Jack Kerouac, indeed!

  8. doubletrouble says:

    Wonderful post, Joel.
    Jack Kerouac, indeed!
    Keep the Faith, Brother.

To the stake with the heretic!