Maybe So, Maybe Not. We’ll See.
A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
The moral of this story, is, of course, that no event, in and of itself, can truly be judged as good or bad, lucky or unlucky, fortunate or unfortunate, but that only time will tell the whole story. Additionally, no one really lives long enough to find out the ‘whole story,’ so it could be considered a great waste of time to judge minor inconveniences as misfortunes or to invest tons of energy into things that look outstanding on the surface, but may not pay off in the end.
The wiser thing, then, is to live life in moderation, keeping as even a temperament as possible, taking all things in stride, whether they originally appear to be ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Life is much more comfortable and comforting if we merely accept what we’re given and make the best of our life circumstances. Rather than always having to pass judgement on things and declare them as good or bad, it would be better to just sit back and say, “It will be interesting to see what happens.”
– Chinese Proverb
I came across Maybe So, Maybe Not. We’ll See. several years ago, I forget where. I’ve made a habit of writing down quotes and passages that strike a chord, having scribbled hundreds of them into journals over so many decades. Some stick, others don’t. This one stuck, as some of you already know, my having shared this plagiarized bit of wisdom with you during times of personal challenge.
But while it’s true that this proverb gives equal weight and caution to moments of good fortune as well as bad, it’s also true that we all do a hell of a lot more suffering when faced with unexpected challenge and struggle, so it tends to be most relevant when things just aren’t going our way.
Taking this quote to heart won’t magically make our struggles disappear, and I certainly still get upset when my best laid plans blow up in my face, but what this quote has taught me is to take a deep breath in the midst of a meltdown and remember that all it really means is there’s a new path ahead, and new paths lead to new lessons and new experiences that I never would have otherwise had.
Without my terrible interaction with Philippe and François in Paris, for example, I never would have discovered The Stella Hotel (nor would I have had an amusing story to tell). If not for a last second, late-night AirBnB cancellation in Bordeaux, I never would have spent the night on the Garonne River aboard The Tango Barge, where I received an amazing, budget-friendly itinerary for southern France from a couple who just happened to be completing that exact trip. Hell, even Pascal-the-Connard took me from a four-man bunkroom in a shitty hostel to beachfront accommodations in Nice (but if we’re being completely, honest, if given the chance I’d still punch him in the forehead).
I know I won’t be getting much pity here – Paris, Bordeaux, Nice, ohhh, poor little Peter and his awful little misfortunes – but when you’re in your fifties and literally minutes away from making a bed on the dirty floor of a heavily trafficked train station in a foreign country, you’re not thinking about how lucky you are to be doing it in a region that’s world renowned for it’s grapes.
And besides, I’d been applying the lesson from this proverb long before I set out on this journey. The only difference now is that due to my lifestyle over the last few months, I’m getting a hell of a lot more opportunities to remind myself that this too shall pass – and if Rwanda is any indication of what lies ahead on the African continent, I’m going to get a lot more practice.
Right out of the gate I ran into visa issues trying to get to Uganda – my original destination – making it impossible for me to travel as planned. But had I not run into that problem, I wouldn’t have had the amazing experiences or met the wonderful people that I did in Rwanda.
If not for Covid regulations making travel a pain in the ass across the world, I never would have been able to get a gorilla trekking permit with literally zero notice, as the wait is normally 4 months or more.
If the cost of the Rwandan gorilla trekking permits versus Uganda’s hadn’t caused me so much agita (the money goes to their amazingly successful conservation and gorilla rebound, so it’s for a great cause), I never would have sought out and chosen the “budget package” with Explore Rwanda Tours, landing me at the oldest hotel in all of Musanze, which, because it’s the oldest, just happens to mean the hotel existed when Dian Fossey, whose research camp and grave I’d also come to visit, happened to stay at that very same hotel, in Room 12 – right next to mine, whenever she came down from the mountains over the 18 years she lived in the Virungas, something I wouldn’t even discover until after I’d checked in.
If I hadn’t run into a problem with the timing of my PCR test, I wouldn’t have been forced to take one at Volcanoes National Park and wait several hours for results, missing my scheduled group gorilla trek. Without that unfortunate circumstance, however, I wouldn’t have ended up with an exclusive, private trek (six times more expensive if I’d selected that option), meaning I had the full attention of my guide and tracker, and unobstructed, unfettered access to my 13 member gorilla family, which included a 450-pound Silverback and a 6-month old baby, and whose family name, Hirwa, rather appropriately, means The Lucky One.
If my AirBnB in Kigali hadn’t turned out to be an out-of-date listing leaving me scrambling for a bed for the evening, I wouldn’t have ended up at the $14 per night Inzozi Bed and Breakfast. where I would meet Jacob on my first morning, a fellow American from Dallas who is also on a one-year round-the-world-trek, and who just happened to start his trek within three days of my own. Jacob was quarantined due to a positive covid test (we spoke through his hotel room window) and because of his misfortune, knew that I could get a free Moderna booster shot at a nearby clinic – something that had proved impossible in much more advanced countries through which I’d already passed. Originally resigned to getting my shot nine months from now, I am now fully vaccinated and boostered, and Jacob and I will stay in touch and possibly even meet once again during our overlapping journeys.
The lessons I’ve been repeatedly taught from the proverb – and have now brow-beaten into all of you – is no matter where we are, and what our circumstances, life happens, good and bad, and all either means is there are new things coming on our horizons, many of which never would have otherwise happened.
Consider all of the unique moments of wonderment and joy each of us has experienced in our lives, and all of the people we love and are thankful for, from family and friends to spouses and children and more, so many of whom wouldn’t exist in our lives today if things had only gone as we’d originally planned. So, when things don’t go as expected, it’s fine to be disappointed and feel a bit put out, but take heart in the fact that new experiences lie ahead, and life is moving forward exactly as it should.
I came to Rwanda for one reason – to see gorillas up close. Despite what Lonely Planet says, this is, was, and will always be my #1. It lived up to the hype, and then some, and I am still in awe that it really happened.
But Rwanda itself was yet another unexpectedly amazing country on this journey, filled with wonderful human beings. I walked tough-looking neighborhoods where every single person said hello to the passing mzungu, many adding unexpectedly animated waves. I met strangers on the street, Joel in Musanze, Moses in Kigali, who stopped to talk to me, take a picture, and exchange contact information. We still exchange messages today. John, assigned to my room at the Parador, could not have been more kind, we sharing stories about our mothers, fathers, families, lives, work and more, and we too are still in touch. I still exchange messages with Rosalie from the Inzozi Bed and Breakfast, Theo from Muhabura Hotel, and of course, my dear friend Bosco.
Life in Rwanda is far from easy. Kigali is a hectic and bustling capital, somehow clean and dirty, advanced and archaic, all at the same time. It has come so far in twenty-seven years, yet has such a long, long way to go. I was awed and touched and hopeful and hesitant about the Rwandan people’s seeming ability to move on from the horrors of 1994, each person I met talking so sincerely of the futility of revenge, acknowledging that it is an otherwise endless cycle, stating their determination to end the cycle right here and now.
And yet, as my friend and I would later discuss, it still feels like such an impossible challenge, at odds with human nature since the beginning of time. But I have witnessed success against the impossible all along this journey, and goals are only impossible until human beings succeed and prove their doubters wrong. I look forward to being proven wrong. And I look forward to returning to Rwanda one day to admit as much in person, and ask forgiveness for those doubts from the friends I have made here. If there is one thing I am certain of, it’s that forgiveness will be granted.