“Life is not what it's supposed to be. It's what it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.”
The following is a fictitious story that I wrote for my family---somewhat didactic in nature to illustrate the importance of obedience, life's arbitrary nature of being seemingly unfair, and truth:
Let me tell ya the tale of Master Henry . . .
When I was a lad of 14, I decided to leave home in search of new adventure---Home life was good, but my dear parents wanted me to study books and things, and their way of life seemed to weigh me down. I just couldn't see rhyme or reason for minding the Good Book or heeding their counsel. They had lived their whole lives under the shade of the elm trees in the tiny hamlet. Their words seemed so passe, so . . . well . . . I knew they loved me, but call for adventure tugged at my mind. Mama and Papa were good folk, but their life seemed so simple; their moral code so limiting, confining. Papa used to ramble on, saying that a bent arrow never sails true. Or something like that. But, times were changing, I thought, and so I bid them farewell and departed to seek my destiny at sea.
Thus, as a new mate on the voyage of life, I thought that the rules were meant to restrict my freedom (“No drinking, no lying, no dating maidens from the pirate vessel”), and so once I was on board the ship, I tended to listen to the young sailors on deck---many on their first voyage--- wailing that the captain was just too feeble of mind and reviling him, suggesting he was out of touch to know better. The rumors even spread that he was part witch and merman, and that he feasted on squid entrails. Sordid stories, ya see. Plus, the captain walked with a gimp and spent most his "free" time up in the ship's crows nest looking at some old book or something. Must be a pirate map; ditch us all, he might. Walk the plank, fer sure.
Had I just left the confines of the home to be bound once again by the rantings of an old sailor?
There was the time when we went into port, and he warned me about hanging out in the pub called, “The Prancing Damsels.” He said, “Ain't nothing good coming from that wretched place.” But what did he know, plus all of my fellow sailors were going there, and nothing bad seemed to happen to them . . . so I thought.” And the more I went, the less offensive a swig here or there from the bottle of life seemed to me. A little salty language there, a little horse play with the bar maidens. Just a little harmless fun. It ain't that bad. And so, the roar of the crowd drowned out good reasoning.
Or there was the time that the captain said that a storm was a brewing by just looking at the sky, licking the salt water in the air, and watching the movements of the brine shrimp in the water. Jackie Boy and I decided to take a lifeboat out to the nearby island in search of treasure . . . only to have our tiny craft nearly capsized in a tempestuous squall. “Ah, blimey, the Captain got lucky. Tis only chance that we nearly drown, but alas, we doing mighty fine now.” However, some of the crew saw it differently. “Pure gambling,” quoth the other sailors, and three days later on another adventure on the life raft, poor Johnny was taken under . . . swallowed by the unforgiving sea whose rage spares no man. The old Captain made me swab the deck five hours a day for weeks for my misfortune, and I cursed him for he was always after me. "He's trying to kill me, I tell ya," I lamented. And he made me climb up the mask again and again for absolutely no reason. When I asked him why, he simply muttered, “It'll do you some good, trust me.” "Tis ain't fair, I tell ya." Then, he retorted, “Life ain't all bliss, and if you're expecting it ta be, you're gonna be sorely disappointed.”
However, as I grew older, I could finally see that while I was standing on the main deck of life looking into the uncertain sea ahead of me, the Captain was standing 100 feet above in the crow's nest . . . above the low-lying fog that clouded my vision (the rhetoric and misguided sayings of the day) . . . and he could see the perilous coral reefs ahead. And instead of riding as close to the reefs as possible (for this was the badgering of the sailors to see if the dear Captain had seasoned skills of a “true” sailor), he purposely swung the ship far out and around the reefs. No cursing or name calling that spilled from the sailors lips could coax the Captain to deviate his course, because unbeknownst to us were the changing currents that in a moment's notice could lull the unwary vessel . . . little by little . . . into the reefs.
During all this time, many of the crew clamored for adventure and the spoils of some lost booty found aground on some distance shore; yet, we spent most of our time trimming the sails, seemingly floating in circles with no apparent destination On one season in port, the Captain exclaimed that any man who wanted to leave his service was welcome to do so. Disenchanted with what many considered the drivelings of an imbalance soul, nearly half the crew abandoned the ship, preferring to take their chances with another crew.
Yet, I stayed. Little by little, I began to discover that the captain had been using these apparently aimless maneuvers in the sea over the past few months to gauge the firmness of the crew's character. "There's a reason why we stand clear from the reefs of life," he exclaimed. At main deck, you often can't see the dangers and have the youthful tendency to dispel the reasoning (how illogical it may appear from the view from where you stand) of the man upstairs.
Then, one evening I perchance to spy the Captain reading the Good book on deck and struck up some light conversation, for by that time, the Captain had shown a liking to me, and I found his somewhat unorthodox demeanor calming. He treated the crew with respect, although this wasn't paid in kind; he also had an uncanny ability to see the future; he also was true to his word. Then, after quoting a scripture or two, he said, “My son,“ for that is what he called me, ”sailing far away from the reefs might not raise the hair on your neck, but you'll always make it back into the harbor. Make friends with those who don't compromise the craft." And then he concluded, "Remember, a bent arrow never flies true.” “A what? Wait,” I interjected. My papa used to say the same thing.” And then, as the Captain quietly walked away into the fog of the night, he concluded, “And a fine man your father was.” Wait,” I burst out, “Do you know my father?”, but the Captain's silhouette faded into the night, ignoring my pleas for an answer.
Until . . .
Well, so what's your ending to the story?
The Moral of the Story:
My dad tried really hard, in spite of the many family challenges we faced, to provide for our financial, spiritual, and emotional well-being. When we were growing up, we often didn't see the reason behind my dad's seemingly-arbitrary decisions, but Dad instilled in me a moral compass by which he lived that has had a lasting impact on our lives. Such compass wasn't thrown off the the roar of the crowd or the shifting values of the day. He taught us values and standards that enabled us to make our own decisions later in life when we decided to plot our own courses, no matter what these decisions would be.
He taught me that life isn't always fair or that the reasons for rules aren't always clear from the deck of the ship, but the only thing we have control of is how I react to these situations: either accept the circumstances and trust in the Captain (parents, God, other leaders) in spite of the roars of the crowd (friends, the media) to do otherwise, or reject and rebel against such counsels. When we are young, we often don't realize that the string on the kite is the instrument to keeping the kite in flight, not to bind it to the ground. Remember that the string isn't rigid; it's flexible allowing some allowance for the kite to find its way. But try letting go of the string one time and see how quickly it falls.
I realized that as a member of the family, I followed the expectations of the family and the rules of society; once I was an adult and left home, I was given complete freedom to succeed or fail. What my father taught me served as the string to keep me firmly grounded, not as the world sees it, but in terms of unwavering faith, and also the strength to stay a float and thrive in the midst of challenges, not if, but when, they sail my way.