Yet another Aesop Monday reveals itself to us (you have to love the Greek Middle/Passive)! I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving, if you are located in the US; if not, I hope you had a great weekend none the less.
Today, Aesop is telling us about pain and gain, the latter in the form of blessings, of course; since the gods are the ones who issue out χάρις. As the fable goes, two fishermen are going about their business in a river seeking to gather as many fish as possible from it, to make some money. Suddenly, their net closes up and becomes heavy. Thinking they have caught a huge amount of fish, the fisherman hurry on to shore in order to load up their catch. Rejoicing, the fishermen reach the shore, load the heavy net upon their carriage, drive it away, and arrive at the nearest town. When they finally open the net the poor guys realize that they have only rocks in it. Aesop closes the story thus:
Oἱ θεοὶ τοῑς ἀνθρὠποις χαρὰς πέμπουσιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ λύπας. ἡ λύπη ἀδελφή τῆς χαρᾶς ἐστιν.
The gods send blessings to human beings, but also pain(s). Pain is blessing’s sister.
Los dioses envían bendiciones a los hombres, pero también dolores. El dolor es el hermano de la bendición.
Let us suspend belief for a moment and assume our fishermen are dumb enough to drag a net, place it on the shore, hoist it up to a carriage bed, drive the load into town, and get it down, without realizing all they are carrying is a bunch of rocks. In fact, this is precisely the point of the fable. When we get over excited, especially when something seems much easier than expected, we tend to make silly mistakes. Have you ever heard the expression “if it is too good to be true, it probably is”? This is precisely what Aesop is getting at here. There is no blessing that comes without trailing some disgrace. Similarly, there is no pain that comes without trailing some blessing. Aesop, of course, focuses on the blessing-followed-by-sadness scenario. I always think of life as a succession of good and bad, I never coast, and I never settle. When something good happens, I think I should be prepared for whatever bad thing is coming up next. Some may say this is a pessimistic point of view, but I rather think of it as the realist point of view. After all, if you are prepared for bad and bad happens, at least you are ready, right?
Whether you believe in God, the gods, or Fate, good things in life are accompanied by bad ones because, let’s face it, you just had a good thing. Anything that does not resemble that good thing you just enjoyed, in turn, will seem unpleasant and disappointing. Think of it this way: you have arrived at the peak of a mountain, and now it is time to descend. Even though you spent just as much time descending the mountain, you wouldn’t constitute that as a failure, right? Because you won. You have succeeded. However, by definition, you could not be a winner, since you had to come down. You couldn’t stay on top. The same thing happens while at sea. You are battered by waves that lift you and drop you, but you stay on your boat, stay the course, and arrive at your destination. Such is life, a bunch of ascends, victories, and descends. No one can stay on top for long, if at all; no one conquers life. Life is like a wave of the sea or the peak of a mountain. We may be tempted, in our inexperience, to say that we have arrived, that we have obtained all we sought in life; but therein lies the greatest danger of all. When you settle, when there is nothing else to look up to you fall, precipitously and inevitably, to the bottom.
Thus, fellow readers, never settle. Never be satisfied with what you have attained. Like the climber who conquers his next mountainous foe, return to camp to plan the next ascent. Like the sailor who braves the storm, assume the waive that just passed, although behind you, will be followed by another wave until the tempest (a Latin word which means ‘a period of time’) passes. Similarly, the ascent may be painful, it may be annoying, boring, or disappointing; but that, too, passes. Eventually, you arrive at the peak of grief, of suffering, only to realize the rest is then downhill; easier, smoother, and much less painful. Everything ends, pain or gain, sooner or later. The key, reader, is not to be deceived by success or failure and the brief moment in which you peak at either one. “ἡ λύπη ἀδελφή τῆς χαρᾶς ἐστιν.” If pain is indeed blessing’s sister, then they will always be hand in hand, regardless of who comes first. Make no assumptions, double check your net, and you will be able to weather much more than you ever thought yourself capable of enduring – good or bad.