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It Will Be OK

Many years ago, someone gave me a little sticker, only about a half inch wide and two inches long, that read, in friendly blue type, It will be OK.

At the time, I just slipped the sticker into an envelope along with some others, and forgot about it.

Much later, the envelope came apart and the stickers all spilled out of it. This happened when I was in the middle of a move, and it seemed like my life was falling apart just like the boxes I had stuffed too full. The sticker slipped out of the box I was carrying and I found it later, lying on the ground face-up like a message that had dropped from heaven – It will be OK.

This kind of thing happened over and over. I would tuck that sticker into a drawer or a box and it would mysteriously slip out, and I would find it on the floor at my feet, or sometimes it would turn up unexpectedly among papers, reassuring me when I didn’t even know I needed it. 

I’ve kept that sticker all these years. Today I have it on display in my kitchen, tucked into the corner of a picture frame. The picture is a little watercolor painting of a wren perching on a pine twig, and it somehow communicates the same message as the sticker.

I feel a little embarrassed to have this little bird picture and the sticker out in my kitchen, where other people can easily see them. I know how they might come across – as showing some naivete, maybe, or weakness. One person came into my kitchen and saw the sticker and actually laughed out loud at it. This made me wonder what kind of life that person had lived, that he could be so condescending to the need for reassurance.

I know the sticker might also seem false. Things don’t always turn out OK, or the way we’d like, and hoping for something that’s impossible doesn’t really help and doesn’t even feel good. It’s always better to face things bravely.

But the thing is, things really do always seem to turn out OK, in the long run.

When I was little, I had a children’s book called Fortunately, Unfortunately. It started like this:

Fortunately, Ned was invited to a surprise party.

Unfortunately, the party was a thousand miles away.

Fortunately, a friend loaned Ned an airplane.

Unfortunately, the motor exploded.

Fortunately, there was a parachute in the airplane.

Unfortunately, there was a hole in the parachute.

It goes on and on in this vein, one reversal after another: Fortunately, Ned lands in a haystack, unfortunately, there’s a pitchfork sticking up in the haystack. I don’t remember how the book ends, but I’m guessing it must have concluded with a Fortunately.

It would have to be that way, because it’s all about that last Fortunately. That last Fortunately makes everything that went before – all the ups and downs – just a big adventure.

There’s a similar story I’ve heard, that seems to be very old. I’ve heard it called either a Zen parable or an ancient Portuguese tale. In this story, an old man who lives in a tiny village owns a magnificent white horse. Although the man is very poor and the horse is his only wealth, he refuses to sell it. 

One day the horse is missing from its shed, and people shame the old man for not having sold it when he could. The old man says, “Don’t speak too quickly. Say only that the horse is not in the stable. That is all we know, the rest is judgment. How can you know if I’ve been cursed or not?”

A couple of weeks later, the horse returns – bringing along with it a dozen wild horses. Everyone congratulates the old man on his incredible good fortune. 

But the man says, “Again you go too far. Say only that the horse is back. State only that a dozen horses returned with him, but don’t judge. 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?”

The old man has a son, his only child, and the young man begins to break the wild horses. One day he’s thrown from a horse and breaks both legs. 

The people of the town once again bring judgments against the old man, telling him he had been right in the first place not to call the horses a blessing. Instead, the horses were a curse, and now the old man will be alone for the rest of his life.

Again the old man tells the people not to judge: “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 of the whole.”

Soon war breaks out and all the young men of the country are conscripted to fight. The enemy is strong, and all the parents fear they will never see their sons again. But because the old man’s boy had been injured, he is allowed to remain at home. Now the people of the town reverse their judgment and tell the old man how lucky he is, and that the son’s accident had been a blessing after all. 

The old man simply says, “Why do you always draw conclusions? No one knows. Say only this: Your sons went to war and mine did not. No one is wise enough to know if it is a blessing or a curse. Only God knows.” 

When people make guesses about what will happen in the future, especially when they assume the worst, I always think of the chickens on the farm. Sometimes we’d be carrying them to a pasture where they could hunt for bugs – a chicken paradise – but they would be squawking and trying to get away, probably thinking they were on the way to the chopping block.

It’s so easy to imagine the worst. It can be hard to believe in the best, or even the good.

And that’s why I’ll stand behind my It will be OK sticker. It’s not just a feel-good slogan, it’s a statement of spiritual truth, the truth I believe: that “the universe,” God, life, whatever you choose to call it, can be trusted.

Recently, someone came into my kitchen and saw the bird picture and the sticker, and he didn’t laugh. This guy had been through a lot recently – health, financial, relationship – and his struggles aren’t over yet.

It’s during tough times that it helps to be reminded we just don’t know what’s in store for the future. It’s reasonable to withhold judgment, like the old man with the horse. 

But it’s also reasonable to expect that in the end, all our stories will end with a Fortunately.

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