Sufi legend: the lost horse

By Paulo Coelho

Many years ago in a poor Chinese village, there lived a peasant with his son. His only material possession, apart from some land and a small straw hut, was a horse he had inherited from his father.

One day, the horse ran off, leaving the man with no animal with which to till the land. His neighbors – who respected him greatly for his honesty and diligence – came to his house to say how much they regretted what had happened. He thanked them for their visit, but asked:

– How can you know that what has happened has been a misfortune in my life?

Someone mumbled to a friend: “he can’t accept reality, let him think what he wants, as long as he isn’t saddened by what happened.”

And the neighbors went off, pretending to agree with what they had heard.

A week later, the horse returned to the stable, but it was not alone; it brought with it a fine mare for company. Upon hearing this, the villagers – who were flustered since they now understood the answer the man had given them – returned to the peasant’s house, in order to congratulate him on his good fortune.

– Before you had only one horse, and now you have two. Congratulations! – they said.

– Many thanks for your visit and for all your concern – answered the peasant. – But how can you know that what has happened has been a blessing in my life?

Disconcerted, and thinking he must be going mad, the neighbors went off, and on the way commented: “does he really not understand that God has sent him a gift?”

A month later, the peasant’s son decided to tame the mare. But the animal unexpectedly reared up and the boy fell and broke his leg.

The neighbors returned to the peasant’s house – bringing gifts for the wounded boy. The mayor of the village offered his condolences to the father, saying that all were very sad at what had happened.

The man thanked them for their visit and their concern, but asked:

– How can you know that what has happened has been a misfortune in my life?

They were all astonished to hear this, since no one could be in any doubt that the accident of a son was a real tragedy. As they left the peasant’s house, some said to others: “he really has gone mad; his only son might limp forever, and he is still in doubt about whether what happened is a misfortune.”

Some months passed, and Japan declared war on China. The Emperor’s envoys traveled throughout the land in search for healthy young men to be sent to the battle front. Upon arrival in the village, they recruited all the young men except the peasant’s son, whose leg was broken.

None of the young men returned alive. The son recovered, the two animals bred and their offspring were sold at a good price. The peasant began visiting his neighbors to console and help them, – since they had at all times been so caring. Whenever one of them complained, the peasant said: “how do you know it is a misfortune?” If anyone become overjoyed, he asked: “how do you know it is a blessing?” And the men in that village understood that beyond appearances, life has other meanings.

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