‘The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio’ tells the true story of Evelyn Ryan (1913-1998), as based on a biography of the same title by her daughter Terry Ryan, with the subtitle of ‘How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less’. It tells the tale of the resilient Evelyn, whom despite being a busy housewife in a financially challenged family, nevertheless does her best in uniting and caring for the family. With her ingenious language skills, she manages to be a serial-winner of many commercial jingle-writing contests, earning crucial extra income for the household (which are sometimes from selling off prizes).
As Terry shared in an interview, ‘She taught us that having a winning spirit is more important than winning, that it outlasts any prize you win… Luck has nothing to do with it.’ To have a winning spirit does not mean to always win, but to always do one’s best, even if the result is not actual winning. Paradoxically, to be in good spirits while persevering for worthy goals is already a kind of winning, even before actual winning. After all, what good does it do to feel low and give up, which might lead to true defeat, even before actual defeat. Since it is better to lose well than worse, it is always better to do one’s best than any otherwise.
In an accidental fall during a scuffle with her husband, an entire carton of glass milk bottles fell and broke. Upon shattered glass and spilled milk, Evelyn tripped. Yet, she shed not a tear, as she simply asked to be driven to a hospital, and for her kids to clean up the mess. Returning bandaged, she writes her ‘stoic’ rhyme for ‘consolation’ – ‘Spilled milk? Don’t cry. Unless, of course, it’s hip high. I don’t cry over milk, spilled or otherwise. I just wish I had spilled a smaller other size. Spilled milk can’t be poured, if it’s spreadin’ ‘cross the floor. But no need for tears or sorrow. There’s always more to spill tomorrow.‘
Cry not over spilled milk, as it does nothing beneficial for anyone at all. What helpful would be to clean before the spill spreads, and to get a healthier drink later. There is no need for tears of lamentation even if much was spilled, as the result is karmically exact, even if expressed through others. Even if there is no spill tomorrow, it is likely that there will be some equivalent ‘spills’ in life to come. As such, why not brace ourselves for larger ‘spills’, by seeing the current spill as but a test, to practise handling well? The Buddha already taught us the First Noble Truth, on life having much suffering, that needs to be faced bravely.
As Shantideva Bodhisattva taught in ‘A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’, ‘If there’s a remedy when trouble strikes, what reason is there for dejection? And if there is no help for it, what use is there in being glum?‘ In short, there is never ever reason to be dejected or glum. When there is a problem with a solution, simply apply it, with no need to fret. When there is a situation without a solution, it is not even a problem, as actual problems have solutions. Again, there is no need to fret, but to accept the way things are – at least for the time being – till conditions might change later, for applying solutions then.