Looking at ourselves and the world through the lens of the 21st century.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

The Donkey in the Well


I learned a lot in the 35 years Mark and I were married. One of the first things he taught me was a lesson in stress management. When we first started dating, I was a single mom juggling college and a part-time job at a pizza parlor. I wasn’t receiving any child support, and I made too much money (yes, seriously) to receive any kind of welfare or support from the state. I was a wreck. One evening, as we sat on his sofa and I wailed about the rotten tomatoes life kept throwing at me, he told me this story:

There was an old farmer who had a donkey. The farmer loved his donkey, and the donkey had been a faithful helper to the farmer, pulling his cart to the market for many years. While plowing a field one day, he heard the donkey crying out in distress. He searched for the sound and found that his donkey had fallen down an old well. 

The farmer tried and tried to get the donkey out of the well, but he couldn’t. The donkey was braying so wretchedly that the farmer knew he had to do something, so he decided to fill in the well and put the donkey out of his misery. Finding a pile of dirt and rubble nearby, he grabbed a shovel and started filling in the hole.

As he filled the hole, the donkey began to bray even louder, and the farmer felt so bad that he shoveled more and more dirt as fast as he could. Eventually, the donkey stopped his wailing, and the farmer thought perhaps he was dead. He looked over the side of the well and was amazed to see the donkey on top of all the dirt he’d shoveled!

The farmer decided to throw in more dirt to see what would happen. He couldn’t believe his eyes as he watched the donkey shake the dirt and debris off his back and then step up onto the fallen mound. Each time the farmer tossed in a pile of dirt, the donkey would shake it off and take another step up. Eventually, the donkey got close enough to the edge of the well to climb out on his own.

The moral of this story is that life will always pile a lot on top of you, and you can choose to be buried by it or shake it off and take a step up.

When Mark told me this story, I laughed. I was so young and distressed that it only gave me a moment’s pause in my despair, but it was enough that I soon climbed out of my hole. Throughout my life, there have been things that have made me feel the same way, and it has always been my determination to rise above the adversity that has enabled me to keep going.

I had not thought of this story for many years, but this evening, as I was reflecting on my life with Mark, my anguish at his loss, and the blessings and lessons I gleaned from our life together, the story of the donkey in the well came immediately to mind. I realized that the lesson has remained even when I am not actively thinking of that story. It has fundamentally changed who I am and helped me learn to deal with my stress.

Does that mean I don’t have stress? Not at all. Like the donkey, I am prone to crying out in frustration and feeling sorry for myself when nothing seems to go my way. But eventually, I always realize I can shake off the dirt life throws at me, and little by little, the pile becomes something I can rise above. 

Don’t let your stress, your worries, or your fears bury you. Shake them off and step up!

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