Dec. 22, 2022


My younger brother recently sent me a story about removing ourselves from predetermined outcomes and consequences– The Chinese Farmer Story – an ancient writing that dates back thousands of years. Every so often, I read something that just clicks, and he knew this would click. He had to ask me a couple times if I read it, and I am thankful he did.

I never really exposed my anxiety disorder to my brother – I always felt like I had to be the strong, independent, go-getting older sister who pretends my anxiety was never ‘a thing’ that got in the way. Once my mom got sick, everything changed. I HAD to be vulnerable. I HAD to show my true self to organically get through this process and the next chapter.

My brother started seeing ME for the first time ever. I remember one of the first nights that I realized I could count on him as an adult. Josh has always been my ‘little brother’ – I adored him when he was born, to the point I ended up being more motherly than most sibling relationships.

I mentioned when I wrote about our experience with mom that she always kept us on our toes – even in her final days – with hilarity and randomness. Well, here’s one.

Mom had just started morphine. I made sure she was asleep and left for the night to get some sleep, giving Josh a full rundown of the day, when she needed meds again, etc. Our new routine. I was woken up at around 2am with a phone call from Josh – mom was acting weird, and he asked me to come back. Without hesitation, I jumped in the car and headed down the interstate. I came to a curve, and as I rounded the off ramp, I saw something in the road. I couldn’t swerve, I would have totaled the car and risked my demise. In a split-second decision, I decided to straddle whatever was in the road in the hopes that it would be saved by the clearance of my SUV.



I made the white-knuckling journey to mom’s doing 45 mph down the highway, paranoid that glowing eyes were jumping out of every bush I passed.

I got to mom’s – no more fatalities thankfully – opened the door where Josh was standing, and yelled, “I just hit the most majestical owl and I feel awful. I’m scared it is stuck in my car – I’m scared to look!”

At almost 3am, after working all day and taking care of mom all night, Josh went out to check my car and assured me I wasn’t dragging a majestic carcass around with me. Still felt shitty, but, phew.

We hop in mom’s bed to ride the night out together. I tell mom the story, and she says to me, “Are you sure it wasn’t a guy sleeping? Maybe he didn’t have anywhere to go.” Josh and I look at each other and he just shakes his head no. “Okay, maybe it wasn’t a guy sleeping. Maybe it was a baby in a stroller. Maybe we should call the cops to have them check”. Then she put the local news channel on. Josh and I look at each other and he shakes his head no with even more conviction.

You could blame it on morphine, but it wasn’t. That was mom, completely fucking with me.

He could see my panic. She actually got me. I even called Ken at 3am, his response was, “Everyone laying in that bed needs to go to sleep, now!” Josh giggled. Mom laughed. I know it sounds crazy now, but picture this. Sleep deprived, completely off schedule, not eating regularly (or at all), waking up to a middle of the night phone call with a migraine, and making the drive convinced ‘this is the night’. Throw in an anxiety disorder.

Was I that distracted? Was that a baby in a stroller? Of course, it wasn’t, but I would be lying if I said I did not look for my victim on my next trek out to mom’s house. Unfortunately, every day for weeks, I drove by the constant reminder of that night – a majestic owl lying by the side of the freeway.

I realized that was the first night I let my guard down long enough to see my younger brother as an adult and accept his guidance, see his compassion for me. I know it all sounds crazy – the owl, the man sleeping, the baby in a stroller, but it was a perfect storm that led to something – even if the journey there was really fucking weird and outlandish.

So – how the hell does this random story fit into the Chinese Farmer Story?

The Chinese Farmer Story

Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.” The farmer said, “Maybe.”

The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening, everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!” The farmer again said, “Maybe.”

The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe.”

The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. Again, all the neighbors came around and said, “Isn’t that great!” Again, he said, “Maybe.”

The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it’s really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad — because you never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune; or, you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.

This is where I do the responsible thing and tell everyone that the Chinese Farmer Story is not my original work (obviously), and admittedly, I do not know the true origin (Alan Watts references this story a lot). Not taking credit, just sharing my experience.

I admit, when assessing a situation, I lead myself to the worst possible outcome and cling to it until the experience is over. There are pros and cons to this approach - example:

Pro: ninety-nine percent of the time, it is never ever as bad as my expected outcome.

Con: I spend a lot of my life anticipating these awful events that do not occur, wasting time on worry.

I am just doing myself, and everyone around me, an injustice by not just being. I could worry until I am sick, but that is not going to change the outcome of things outside of my immediate control.

The impact of losing mom is lasting, obviously it is for any loved one departed. It wasn’t until Josh sent me this article that I realized there IS in fact a maybe in there. There is a maybe in every experience, good or bad. We just have to be open and willing enough to embrace any consequence – not just the predetermined ones.

As I look back on blog posts, I realize I talk a lot about mom. It is not because I am stuck in a downward spiral of missing her (although I always will), it is because I learned so much about myself during that time in my life that it is hard to NOT write about sometimes.

Was it my most meaningful experience?