Irish poet Pádraig Ó Tuama has written a simple line that I have found both irrefutable and reassuring. It’s from a piece called, “Narrative Theology” from a greater work entitled, “Hymns to Swear By” (which might be one of the greatest book titles ever). The line goes: “The answer is in the story; and the story is still being told.” I wonder if Pádraig took some inspiration from the tale of “The Old Man and the Horses.”
A poor old man had two things he loved: His son and a gleaming stallion. This horse was envied by all and often villagers would come see the animal. Just as often these neighbors would gossip about how foolish the old man was. “He should sell this horse and alleviate his impoverishment!” was the general consensus.
One morning the man awoke to discover his stallion missing. All the villagers gathered immediately. “We knew you were a fool! Someone has stolen your horse and now you have nothing,” they said. The old man answered: “I did not sell the horse because he is my friend. As to him missing, say only that he is not in his stall. To say more is to speak of what we do not know.”
Days later the stallion returned. He had not been stolen. He had only run away into the forest. Further, a dozen wild horses had followed the stallion home. The neighbors gathered around the full corral and said, “You were right! Now you will be wealthy.” The old man replied: “Say only that my horse has returned and brought with him this blessing. To say more is to speak of what we do not know.”
At once the old man’s son began to break the new horses. One of them threw the boy violently, resulting in the old man’s son breaking both his legs. The neighbors gathered once again, saying: “These horses are a curse! Your son will never walk again and you will have no one to care for you.”
The old man was unmoved. “We do not know if this is a blessing or a curse,” he said. “Say only that my son’s legs are broken. To say more is to speak of what we do not know.” The neighbors laughed and departed.
In time news reached the village that their country had been invaded by an overpowering enemy. Their king mounted a defense by declaring a military draft of all young men. The villagers knew that most of their boys would never return, so they gathered once again at the old man’s corral: “You are blessed old man,” they cried out in tears. “At least you will keep your son while ours are lost to us forever.”
The old man, out of patience, shooed them away. “You people are impossible to talk to,” he said. “Say only that my son is with me and for now yours are not. To say more is to speak of what we do not know.” Amen.