There is a story about adversity that gets passed around from time to time. Like many other tales, it is told and retold, and always a little differently by each storyteller. I tried to research it to find where it originated so I could credit the author, but most every site I encountered credits the ever-popular, multi-talented Unknown. Amazon has a Chinese version of the story available by Li Yu Ping.
As I was making eggs the other day, the story once again came to my mind…
A young woman sighed. Life was difficult. It seemed like each time she made progress, some new problem cropped up, and she was driven two steps back. She wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting. She was tired of hurting. She was tired of struggling to make it through another day. As she explained her feelings to her grandmother, she sighed again in resignation.
Her grandmother smiled knowingly and patted the young woman’s arm. She silently filled three pots with water and set them on the stove to heat. Before long, each of the pots was boiling rapidly. The young woman watched, too worn out to speak, as her grandmother added carrots to the first pot, eggs to the second, and ground coffee beans to the third pot of boiling water. After about twenty minutes, the old woman turned off the heat, and placed the contents of each pot in three separate dishes.
She placed the carrots in front of her granddaughter, “Tell me what you see.”
“Cooked carrots,” the girl replied, wrinkling her nose.
She placed the eggs in front of her granddaughter, “And here?”
“Eggs. Hardboiled eggs.”
The old woman set the final steaming dish on the counter, “What about this?”
The young woman took a deep breath and exhaled, “Coffee.”
“Look closer. Describe the carrots to me.”
“Hot. Orange. Mushy.”
Nodding, the grandmother said, “Crack the eggs for me.”
“They are hardboiled. Just like I said.”
The woman smiled, “Now taste the coffee.”
The young woman blew on the hot liquid and smiled as she inhaled its deep aroma. She took a small sip, and looked back at her grandmother, waiting.
“Which one are you?”
The young woman was puzzled, “What do you mean?”
Her grandmother explained that each of the objects had faced the same adversity – the boiling water. And each had reacted differently.
The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to boiling water, it softened and became weak.
The egg was fragile; its thin outer shell providing protection to its liquid interior. However, after sitting in boiling water, its inside became hardened.
But the ground coffee beans were different. After being exposed to the boiling water, they had changed the water.
“So, which are you?” repeated the old woman, “Are you the carrot that seems strong, but when faced with pain and challenges, become soft and lose strength? Or are you the egg that starts with a soft and kind heart, but changes with the heat? Does your ‘shell’ look the same, but on the inside you are bitter and tough with a hardened heart? Or are you the coffee bean that changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain? When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor of the coffee bean. If you are like the bean, it is when things are at their most difficult that you get better and change the world around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, how do you react?”
The young woman carefully considered each item in front of her. She reflected on times when she had allowed the challenges in life to make her weak. She remembered quarrels and relationships which ended in a hard and bitter heart. And she thought of the times when she had risen above the trials and fears and struggles and bravely pressed forward. She recalled her strength.
She allowed a small smile to steal across her face, softening her worried expression.
“Thank you,” she whispered softly.
How do you face adversity?