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The Taoist Tale

There’s an old Taoist tale about a poor farmer whose horse ran off into territories ruled by barbarians. When his neighbors expressed their condolences, he replied, “How do you know that this isn’t good fortune?”

The horse returned some time later with a fine barbarian horse, which prompted great celebration among the same neighbors. “How do you know that this isn’t a disaster?” the farmer responded.

The two horses bred and the farmer became rich in fine horses, which his son enjoyed riding until he fell and broke his hipbone. The neighbors wept for him, but the farmer silenced them. “How do you know that this isn’t good fortune.”

The following year, the barbarians invaded and most of the able-bodied men died in the battle. The farmer’s son was too crippled to fight and thus survived. As someone smarter than me once said, “Who can tell how events will be transformed.”

I was thinking about this story on Saturday morning after discovering that someone had broken into our garage and stolen the closest thing I own that resembles a horse: my trusty old Schwinn. Was this good news or bad?

On the one hand, the available evidence seemed to suggest that the thief is now traveling more safely than on his former set of wheels, which he left on the driveway outside the garage. Its brake cables had snapped, which would make pedaling it among traffic slightly more challenging than necessary. My Schwinn may prevent a tragic accident somewhere down the road.

On the other hand, replacing my beloved ancient two-wheeler would cost money, time, and energy. But it also gave me an excuse to walk across the bridge to my local bicycle shop and take in the autumn colors along the river, a trek that also offered a stunning bald eagle sighting.

I wondered if that bald eagle was a sign, the sort of thing Native Americans might translate into some piece of useful wisdom, another piece of good fortune unexpectedly reaped from the theft. But I may have been giving myself too much credit. I arrived at the bike shop thinking I would just pick something off the showroom floor and pedal it back home, but there were fenders and such to install. It would be several hours before it would be ready. The eagle was really saying, “Why didn’t you drive over here, Einstein?”

So I trekked back across the bridge, working up a bit of a sweat in the late morning sunshine and not appreciating the landscape as much as I maybe should have.

I had committed earlier to helping my pal The Commissioner assemble a piece of exercise equipment and would’ve pedaled over to his house if I had a bicycle, but since I suddenly didn’t, I climbed in the car, which my daughter had already reserved for her use. “I’ll have it back home by 1,” I told her.

An elliptical machine is a more complicated assembly project than you might think, especially for two guys who ignore printed instructions. So I was a bit tardy in returning the car. I’m not sure if that made my daughter late for her engagement, since she generally doesn’t pop in to say hello before driving off, but I’m going to assume that anything bad that might have happened due to the consequences of my stolen Schwinn haven’t yet manifested. Besides, it gave her an opportunity to practice patience in a way she’s been helping us practice for the past several years.

Back home, My Lovely Wife was packing up for her Saturday afternoon trip to the coffee shop. She encouraged me to join her and reminded me that her old bike was available if I was suffering at all from the early symptoms of bicycle withdrawal. (Our burglar had completely ignored MLW’s two bikes in his pursuit of new wheels. Obviously a guy, Dr. Watson.) So we pedaled north a couple of miles or so for a little espresso break, a trip that offered me the opportunity to appreciate the fact that I wouldn’t have to ride MLW’s spare bike after I picked up my new one.

The call from the bike shop came soon after I’d finished my latte, and I hustled home to secure the spare bike in the garage and walk once again over the bridge and up the hill to claim my prize. There was no eagle to be seen, so it seemed that any wisdom I was to gain I’d have to earn on my own.

Turns out, The Commissioner tried to call me when he spotted me on the bridge while on his way to pick up a pizza to celebrate the successful elliptical assembly, but I missed the call. I can’t say I’m completely clear about what that might have meant.

My new bicycle beneath me and my substantially lighter wallet, I raced joyously through the dusky streets to rejoin MLW at the coffee shop. And it occurred to me that I wouldn’t be getting the salutary interval workout (which this study suggests improves blood vessel function in geezers) had our bicycle thief not lopped off the padlock on the garage and snipped the cable on my old interval-averse Schwinn on Friday night. I almost — but not quite — wanted to thank the guy.

The older I get, the more I’ve been trying to lose my attachment to stuff — even the stuff I rely on every day. It’s not always easy, but when I find myself letting go it’s more satisfying than you might think.

That said, I bought a Kryptonite lock for the first time in my life and spent part of Sunday morning securing the garage against another invasion. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while now. So did our bike thief deliver good fortune or disaster? Time will tell.

Thoughts to share?

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