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You Never Know the Rest of the Story

Not many people experience shark attacks. Even fewer live to tell about them. And fewer still would manage to find a silver lining.

But Dylan McWilliams did.

“I’m either really lucky or really unlucky,” observed the 20-year-old Coloradan after escaping his encounter with a single bite that required only seven stitches.

“The scariest part was swimming back,” he said, fearing that the trail of blood he left behind would draw the shark’s return before he could swim the 50 yards to the Kauaian shore.

But there’s more to the story. Last July, Mr. McWilliams was attacked by a bear that invaded his camping site and tried to drag him away. Three years before that, he was bitten by a rattlesnake while hiking in Utah.

So what would you say: was he unlucky to have been attacked three times, or was he lucky to have survived each attack?

Maybe both. Or maybe luck has nothing to do with it. Maybe it’s all about asking the question.


There’s a Zen parable about a Chinese farmer whose horse breaks out of its stable and runs away. “Bad luck,” says the neighbor.

“Maybe,” says the farmer.

The next day the horse returns, accompanied by another wild horse. “Good luck,” says the neighbor.

“Maybe,” says the farmer.

A day later, the farmer’s son is thrown while trying to tame the wild horse and breaks his leg. “Bad luck,” says the neighbor.

“Maybe,” says the farmer.

The following day, the emperor’s soldiers come to town and forcibly take all the young men off to war. They leave behind the farmer’s son, whose broken leg makes him unfit for battle. “Good luck,” says the neighbor.

“Maybe,” says the farmer.


There is no justice. Things just happen. Life is not fair. That’s the way many of us look at the world. And for good reason. We see good people struggling and wicked people prospering. We see hard work and honesty go unrewarded while greed and corruption pay off.

But we aren’t seeing the whole picture.

If you spend time doing jigsaw puzzles, you’ve probably had this experience. As you get close to finishing the puzzle, you have one piece that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere. The coloring is all wrong. The shape refuses to match up with any of the remaining empty spaces. You simply can’t see how there’s anywhere for this piece to go.

And then, after you’ve set every other piece in place and there’s only one empty spot left, you discover that – miraculously – the misfit piece fits perfectly into the last remaining space.

But it’s no miracle. It always had its place. It was always going to fit. You just couldn’t see how.

Life is the same way.

Just ask the travel agents fired from their office one Friday in the World Trade Center without warning; imagine how different things looked four days later on 9/11. Or ask the British couple and their baby son who were bumped from Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 hours before it was shot down over Ukraine. Or ask Alexander Fleming whose contaminated strep culture led unexpectedly to the discovery of penicillin.

Or, on the flip side, ask the countless people who won the lottery only to have their lives ruined by their inability to cope with unexpected millions.

Did the good turn into bad and the bad turn into good? Or were good and bad simply hidden behind our human incapacity to see the whole picture?

King Solomon says, The end of the matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than arrogance.

We can all stand to benefit from humility. A bit less hubris makes it easier to find our way through the blessings and curses that pave the road of life.

So let us celebrate victories without too much fanfare, since our fortunes may reverse at an instant. And let us meet our failures and our tragedies with disappointment and sorrow – but not too much – for exactly the same reason.

Published in Jewish World Review

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