I don't remember the origins of the following story - perhaps something drawn from Zen Buddhism? But I find it one of those life-resonating parables:
A seeker comes to a fork in the road and finds a wise, old man sitting there. 'Which way to enlightenment?' the seeker asks the wise, old man. 'Take the road on right,' answers the wise, old man. The seeker takes the path on the right and, after walking on it for some time, out of nowhere there is an almighty 'Splat!'. He does not know what hit him, but he stumbles back to the fork in the road somewhat battered and bruised. 'Old man, did you not say that this was the path to enlightenment?' 'Yes', answers the wise, old man. 'Take the road on the right.' The seeker is confused but, thinking perhaps he had made an error further down the path, turns and goes back down the path on the right. After walking on it for some time, out of nowhere yet again there is an almighty 'Splat!' Once more the seeker makes his way back to the fork in the road, feeling sore and demoralized. 'Old man, what are you trying to do to me? I ask you for the road to enlightenment; you keep telling me to take this path on the right, and each time out of nowhere - 'Splat!' - and I am bruised and battered from my experience. Are you sure that this is the right road?' The wise, old man replies, 'Yes, my child. The path to enlightenment is just a little way past 'Splat!'
Enlightenment is not typically the spiritual language of Judaism. But there is the notion that, by returning to contemplate the path we are walking down in life, and desiring to refine our behaviors and our priorities, we may come a little closer to understanding the meaning of our lives and our purpose. But the road of life is often strewn with moments of 'Splat!', where we find ourselves battered and bruised by our experiences, whether they be things that we brought upon ourselves by our own choices, or whether they came out of the blue and were completely beyond our ability to control.
We can expend a great deal of energy railing against the things that challenge us and bring us down. We can wonder 'why me'? These are very human responses to the difficulties that we face in our lives. But the parable suggests that any meaning we make of our lives, and any understanding we have of our purpose and who we are must necessarily be able to withstand the times when life goes 'Splat!' If we can only believe in God when life is good, when we can only give something to others when everything is going right in our lives, and if we can only keep anger at bay when nothing is provoking us, then we still have a way to journey before we come to a place of deeper meaning and understanding... a little way beyond 'Splat!'
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz