It Is what it Is

There was once a poor farmer who had one son and a small field somewhere in the mountains of Greece during the period of Turkish rule. Life was hard and life was short.

One day, as the poor farmer was working in his field, a beautiful white horse appeared and stood near the farmer, grazing quietly on the grass.

As news of this fact became known, the farmer’s neighbors all came round, congratulating him on his find. “Aren’t you lucky!” they said. “Now you will be able to use the horse to plow the field and pull the cart to market, and you will become a rich man.”

The old man smiled gently. “I do not know whether I am lucky or not,” he replied. “All I know is, I was working in my field, when suddenly this horse came and started grazing. Etsi einai*–that’s just what happened.”

On the following days the horse stayed, but no one came to collect the animal, so the farmer’s son decided to see if he could ride him. Although the boy had no saddle, he found that the horse was quite content to let him sit on his back, and away he went. Unfortunately, after a while, they came to a low-lying branch, and the farmer’s son was knocked from the horse, fell to the ground, and broke his leg.

The farmer’s neighbors came running. “How unlucky you are,” they said. “Your son has fallen off the horse and broken his leg. He won’t be able to help you in the field, and you will most likely starve.”

The old man smiled gently. “As to whether I am lucky or unlucky I cannot say,” he replied. “All I know is that I was working in my field, and the beautiful white horse appeared; my son tried to ride him, but fell off, breaking his leg. Etsi einai–that is just what happened.”

Two days later, a troop of the Sultan’s guard arrived in the village, looking for recruits for the army. At that time the Sultan was waging a battle against a powerful enemy. The soldiers found the farmer’s son (who would have been an ideal soldier), but when they realized that the boy had a broken leg, they left him and went on to the next village, to find recruits there.

When they heard the news, the villagers came running. “How lucky you are,” they said. “The Sultan’s men came to take away your son, but when they realized that he had a broken leg, they left him and went on to the next village. God must really love you.”

The old man smiled gently. “As to whether I am lucky or unlucky I cannot say,” he replied. “All I know is that I was working in my field, and a beautiful white horse appeared; my son tried to ride him, but fell off, and broke his leg. The Sultan’s guard came to take my son away to the army, but when they found him with a broken leg, they left him and went off to the next village. Etsi einai–that is just what happened.”

Days passed, and the boy’s leg started to heal. However, one morning the farmer woke up and found that the horse had disappeared during the night.

When they heard the news, the villagers came running. “How unlucky you are,” they said. “The beautiful white horse has gone–such a fine animal, and valuable too. What a terrible loss. You have nothing left to live for.”

The old man smiled gently. “As to whether I am lucky or unlucky I cannot say,” he replied. “All I know is that I was working in my field, and a beautiful white horse appeared; my son tried to ride him, but fell off, and broke his leg. The Sultan’s guard came to take my son away to the army, but when they found him with a broken leg, they left him and went off to the next village. Then the beautiful horse disappeared in the middle of the night. Etsi einai–that is just what happened.”

As the days passed, the farmer’s son’s health improved, and eventually he was able to walk again. When he was well enough, he decided that he would go to look for the beautiful white horse. Days went by, and the farmer continued to work in his fields. Sometimes it was hot, and sometimes it was cold, and occasionally it was just right.

Several months later, the farmer’s son returned. “You’ll never guess what happened,” he said. “I followed the tracks of the horse as best I could, and eventually caught up with him about twenty miles away. On his back was riding the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. Eventually I asked her father for her hand in marriage and as a dowry he gave me the white horse. So now I have returned, the horse has returned, and I have the most beautiful wife in the world.”

As news of this went round, the neighbors came rushing in. “How fortunate you are!” they all said. “Your son went off to look for your horse, and returned not only with the horse, but also with a beautiful new bride. How lucky you are! You must be the luckiest man alive.”

The old man smiled gently. “Whether I am lucky or unlucky I cannot say. All I know is that I was working in the field and the horse appeared. My son rode the horse and fell off, breaking his leg. The Sultan’s soldiers came to take my son away, but once they saw he had a broken leg, they left him here. The horse ran away, and when my son found him, he also found the wife of his dreams, and brought her back here. Etsi einai–that is just what happened.”

Months passed, and one day the old man died.

When news got round, the neighbors came running. “How sad this is!” they said to the young man. “Just when everything was going so well, your father died.” The young man said nothing, but showed the neighbors into the room where his father lay.

There was a faint smile on the old man’s lips.

*Etsi einai: A standard Greek expression, roughly translated (with a shrug of the shoulders) “that’s just how it is.”

Webber, Meletios, Steps of Transformation, Chesterton: Conciliar Press (2003), pp. 196-98.

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