Acceptance, Awareness, Impermanence, Patience, Possibility, Spiritual Practice, Zen

Online Shopping: A First World Zen Parable


“Maybe” was a Zen practice even before memes existed.

One version of a famous Zen tale goes like this:

An old farmer had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.

“Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. 

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.

“How wonderful!” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

This parable was on my mind last week after deciding to order an red-orange ottoman storage bench online. Although I had delighted in my spontaneous furniture finds at thrift shops, this bench had captured my attention during one of my Internet forays. It was versatile and elegant, more investment than impulse purchase. Indeed, I cyber-stalked it, looking everywhere to rustle up as many reviews as possible, make sure the color was as shown and find the lowest price. On Black Friday, I ordered it from Overstock, which offered an extra discount plus free shipping. The bench was slated to arrive by December 4, a few days before I planned to host a party. If all went according to plan, I’d have enough seating in the living room so guests could relax and enjoy the view. The morning of December 4, FedEx’s tracking information indicated it would arrive that day. As afternoon faded to dusk and dusk muddied into darkness, I checked online again. Somewhere between California and Colorado, the package had vanished from the system, leaving in its wake an enigmatic “N/A”. Against my better Zen awareness, which posits that life happens in its own time, things can change in an instant, and therefore there’s no need to track packages, I phoned FedEx. A cheerful woman said she found nothing amiss and the furniture was probably out for delivery.

“You might get it this evening,” she said. “Sometimes the drivers are out at 9pm and 10pm this time of year.”

I felt hopeful. Then I reminded myself, “Maybe.” Nothing arrived by the time I went to bed. The following day, Friday, I phoned FedEx again. The package had shown up in Denver and would be delivered sometime Saturday.

“I’m having a party in the afternoon. Is there any chance you could deliver it in the morning?” I asked, even though it felt like the request might jinx the outcome.

“Maybe,” said the FedEx employee. “I’ll request early delivery but can’t promise when it will get there.”

My mind spun: What if a large box arrived smack in the middle of a social gathering…wouldn’t that suck? Maybe. What if my guests helped me unpack the box…wouldn’t that be wonderful? Maybe. Early Saturday morning, still unwashed and in my pajamas, I heard someone bang on the door.

“How awkward and embarrassing to answer the door looking like this,” I thought.

“Maybe,” said my inner Zen guide. I opened the door to find a somewhat battered box and a smiling FedEx delivery person, who offered to bring it inside, ignoring my attire.

“Oh, good!” I thought. “I’ll have it for the party.”

“Maybe,” came the Zen guidance. “See if it’s the right color first.”

I carefully opened the package and, using my newfound Feldenkrais skills, maneuvered the bench out of the cardboard without straining my back or destroying the box. I slowly removed the white foam wrapping and then a fitted white sheath that had protected the piece. The color, a vibrant red-orange, was as I had imagined, one of my favorites. The quality of the construction high. Just as I was about to congratulate myself for a well-considered purchase, I noticed a tiny imperfection on the front left corner of the ottoman’s lid. Looking more closely, it appeared to be the result of excessive friction, as if the fabric had been rubbed off rather than sliced or gashed. Indeed, that corner of the box was crumpled, suggesting it had been dropped or dragged.

Maybe I would not own this piece of furniture after all.

I photographed the ding, placed the bench on a small dolly and wheeled it into my bedroom, out of sight. I felt defeated at the prospect of having to wrap the thing up, maneuver it back into the box, and ship it back. I called Overstock to inform them of the damage and ask about next steps.

“If you want a refund, you can ship it back,” said the customer service representative. “Or we can send you another.”

“I’ll take another,” I said, surprised by the offer, given the item’s bulk and price point. At least I wouldn’t have to finagle the bench back into the box. Maybe I was naive, but I believed that this exact problem wouldn’t recur. Maybe this wasn’t going to be as large a nuisance as I had imagined. “Do you want me to send you a photo of the damage?”

“No,” he said. As I learned later, it would be up to FedEx to inspect it.

“What should I do with the bench?” I asked.

“You can throw it out or give it away,” he said.

“Are you going to ship the second one via FedEx, too?” I asked, concerned they might abuse the package again. In my experience, UPS has a better track record.

“Usually they’re more careful the second time around,” he said.


At the party, even though I had put snacks in the living room, for the most part guests congregated in the kitchen, which has no view. Maybe I hadn’t needed to buy any seating after all.




About ilona fried

Writer, Feldenkrais champion, Aikidoka and explorer of internal and external landscapes.


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts.

Thank you!

Whether you leave a comment or a donation, I appreciate your support.

Follow à la carte spirit by ilona fried on


%d bloggers like this: