A while ago, I passed through a difficult moment in my life. Heartbroken and slightly lost, I withdrew into myself for a time. This withdrawal was necessary—and necessarily temporary.
While meandering through my healing process, I stumbled on a story making the social media rounds. (Incidentally, two different friends would later share the same story with me.) I don’t remember where I saw it, or exactly how it went, so I will share my own version:
One day, a young woman went to her grandmother with tears in her eyes and sadness in her heart. At a loss for what to do with her troubles, she asked the older, wiser woman for advice.
Her grandmother took her by the hand and led her into the kitchen.
There, she set three pots of water to simmer. In the first, she placed a carrot. In the second, an egg. In the third, a scoop of dark, aromatic coffee.
They waited, and the young woman dried her tears. After enough time had passed, her grandmother took the pots off the fire and placed them on the kitchen table.
“What do you see?” She asked her granddaughter. “What has happened in each of these pots?”
The young woman answered: “Well, the carrot looks soft and mushy, the egg is hard boiled now, and the coffee has…well, made coffee. But, grandmother, what does this have to do with my question?”
Her grandmother smiled.
“Our troubles are like the boiling water,” she explained. “And we—we have a choice of how we react to them. We can be like the carrot, and turn to mush under pressure. We can be like the egg, and let our sorrows turn us hard and unyielding. Or…”
And she paused and poured the steaming coffee through a strainer and into a mug, and handed it to her granddaughter.
“Or, we can be like coffee, and we can change the water. When hardship finds us, we can steep in it and become something more complex, richer than before.”
She paused and watched her granddaughter take a small sip of the rich, dark coffee. And then she asked her:
“Which will you be?”
“I want to be like the coffee!” A small inner voice cried out earnestly when I read this story. I wanted to be like the coffee, and so that is what I sought to do—at times consciously, at times unaware.
As I continued on my path, I endeavored to be like the coffee, enriching the spaces and experiences around me simply by doing what I did—rendering them more complex, lending them more depth.
I began to send out travel updates again—chatty, quirky, rambling emails to a shortlist of friends and friendly strangers. I reconnected with my passion for movement, rock climbing in London, learning pole and lyra in Cape Town, and teaching yoga to friends in Helsinki. I wrote. I wrote poetry, short stories, essays and emails, and I talked to everyone.
I remembered, finally, just how much of an impact one person can have when they live with passion, with love, with curiosity, with joy.
And my heart?
It took its sweet time mending. (In fact, I’m sure it’s not done yet.) But I didn’t fall apart, and I didn’t put up walls. I remained inalterably myself—not in spite of challenges, but in harmony with them. The melody I write on the walls of my heart didn’t weaken, and it didn’t grow harsh; rather, it gained under- and overtones, and is all the richer for it.
I hope, if you are facing a difficult moment in your life, you may find meaning in this story, too.
Faced with boiling water, we can be like the carrot, and go soft—turn to mush. We can be like the egg, and grow hard—put up walls.
Or, we can be like the coffee, and we can change the water, simply by doing what we do.
Which will you be?
(Oh, and if you don’t like coffee, let’s just pretend this story is about tea instead!)
Author: Toby Israel
Image: Author’s Own