“There's a deep underlying unpredictability to life that is thrilling. In China, my wife would say you go out to buy toilet paper, and you come back, and something interesting or revealing or funny happened on the way. I can tell you, going out to buy toilet paper in the U.S. is a completely predictable experience.”
Journalist and former China correspondent Evan Osnos, in a 2014 interview by Te-Ping Chen for The Wall Street Journal, responding to the question, "What do you miss about China?"
If I had read the above interview when it was published, I would have smiled at Osnos' sentiment; last week, when I did read it (March 2020), I couldn't help but see an irony, albeit unintended, for the incongruity between those words and recent world events.
I found the quote while preparing a talk for a Sunday church service. I had already finished preparing a talk when the inspiration came - at 10:30 Thursday night in the checkout lane at the grocery store. My small cart held every item on my list or a workable substitute (no tissues, but the shelves had been restocked with toilet paper, so I was covered).
As I stood in line, I was grateful: I have a full cart... a comfortable home... a reliable car... fulfilling work... good health... family and friends whom I love.... When mild dissatisfaction arose in me at the thought of blowing my nose with toilet paper, it was as though the toilet paper itself admonished me! Its retort was as amusing as it was humbling, and a new talk was born....
Over or under doesn't matter
We may have a personal preference, we've heard both sides of the argument, but now we know: it doesn't matter. If recent events haven't proven this to you, then you haven't been on social media or watched the news or made a run to the grocery store.
Someday we may tell our grandchildren, "I was there when it happened. People were standing in the grocery aisle when they realized that what matters more than which way the roll rolls, is having any toilet paper at all." Great, humanity has made an evolutionary leap. But this is no time to rest on our laurels: what else have we been taking for granted?
Ask yourself, what's important to me personally? Brainstorm a list, highlight things that really matter, and place them in priority order. Next, transfer only the first three priority items to another page. This is your "yes" list; everything else takes a back seat for now - you can say "no" to them. I promise you, this level of clarity will change your life if you live by it.
Ask, what's important to me universally, societally, globally? For example, one thing that matters more than having toilet paper is having the trees that are cut down to produce it. But I also understand the current predicament: who can think of saving trees when there's not a square to spare?
You can always spare a square
I refer of course to the restroom escapades of Elaine Benes, a fictional character on the television series Seinfeld in an episode titled "The Stall." The moral of the story? Share a square, even if there are few to spare.
It may not be easy to live from a mindset of trust and abundance when the world seems full of fear and lack, but remember, every problem has a solution. You can use the law of attraction and create a mindset of prosperity through gratitude, generosity, and grounding.
Gratitude: Spend more time thinking about things that you like than things that you don't like.
Generosity: Whatever you want in your life, give exactly that to others.
Grounding: Build a strong foundation by allocating more of your time, energy, and money to items on your "yes" list.
If you commit to these practices, you'll have more squares to spare; if you share your squares, others will share theirs. We're all playing in the same sandbox together....
Replace the roll
You know who you are. Seriously. Just do it.
Bare bottoms welcome here
Toilet paper accepts you as you are. It's like God in that way. And dogs. Emma Lazarus said it more eloquently, "Come as you are. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door." A good lesson here.
This too shall pass
The origin of this quote is a Persian fable attributed to the Sufi master Attar and popularized by the English poet Edward Fitzgerald in a story titled "Solomon's Seal." Here's my summary version:
One day Solomon said to his most trusted minister, "There is a certain ring I want you to bring to me. It has magic powers: if a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy. I wish to wear it for Sukkot."
Benaiah said "I will find it and bring it to you." But Solomon knew that no such ring existed in the world.
After searching for months the minister still had no idea where to find the ring. The day he was to bring it to Solomon, the minister passed by a merchant in a poor quarter of Jerusalem. "Have you by any chance heard of a magic ring that makes the happy wearer forget his joy and the broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrows?" asked Benaiah.
He watched the man take a plain gold ring from his carpet and engrave something on it. When Benaiah read the words on the ring, his face broke out in a wide smile. That night the entire city welcomed in the holiday of Sukkot with great festivity.
"Well, my friend," said Solomon, "have you found what I sent you after?" All the ministers laughed and Solomon himself smiled.
To everyone's surprise, Benaiah held up a small gold ring and declared, "Here it is, your majesty!"
The smile vanished from Solomon's face when he read the inscription, "This too shall pass," as he realized that all his wisdom and wealth and power were fleeting, for one day he would be nothing but dust.
Our wisdom may exceed even Solomon's. If we can remember that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, then we will realize there is more to life than chasing happiness or avoiding sadness, and "this too shall pass" will bring us only peace.
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