Jason frowned at the app on his phone and felt the frustration grow inside his chest. The red line pointed jaggedly downard, indicating a loss of close to $14,000 in one day.
“Daddy? Can you push me on the swing?”
“Not right now,” Jason replied, “Um...I’ll do it in a minute. I have to finish something here first. But go ahead, I”ll catch up with you.”
Jason was vaguely aware of his four-year-old daughter’s figure bouncing away into the distance. He was engrossed in his stocks, trying to decide what his next move would be. He glanced up for a moment when he heard his wife come through the back door and watched her silently as she went to push their daughter on the swing.
He should have gotten out sooner. If he had gotten out sooner, he wouldn’t have lost so much. In fact, if he had never gotten in at all, he would be much better off right now. He would have to try to make up for these losses tomorrow, there was probably no fixing it today.
Jason was getting ready to put his phone away when he felt it vibrate with an incoming call. Who did he know in Oracle, Arizona? Out of curiosity, he tapped the green icon and put the phone to his ear.
“Hi Jason. You don’t know me, but I have a story for you.”
“Uh...who is this? What kind of story?”
“I don’t go by any name that you would understand. But the story I have is one you need to hear.”
Jason smirked, but decided to humor this mysterious caller.
“Go ahead,” he said, “I’m listening.”
The mysterious speaker began.
“Not so long ago, there was a boy who grew up poor. He wandered the streets of his neighborhood shoeless, unwashed and unattended. No one paid any attention to the boy or the others like him, just let him pass them by like another shadow cast by the setting sun.
The boy resented being poor. He resented the way he went unnoticed. The boy often found himself wandering down the roads where the big houses sat like great proud beings, with large square roofs and columns reaching for the heavens. He watched from the corner of his eye each time he saw a figure exit one of the ornate front doors, and wondered what it would be like to stand on the porch steps, seeing himself pass by like a weed carried on the summer breeze.
Like a weed his thoughts grew tangled, frustrated and confused. He wondered why some people lived in great houses and others lived in great despair. He felt the great despair carve its way through his heart, creating a vast emptiness within that he was desperate to fill. He carved the great houses in his memory and felt the warmth of the setting summer sun give life to the determination that grew there.
Someday he would be rich.
The boy lay in his bed at night itching from the fleas that infested his sheets and itching with the desire that ensnared his thoughts.
It was not enough to have enough. Someday he would be rich. He drifted into slumber and in his dreams he owned all of the great houses and drove all of the shiny cars. In his dreams people noticed him, not as a weed, but as the rarest form of flower, jaws dropping in awe as he passed by.
The boy slowly grew into a man. As his heart expanded with age, so did all within it. The cavernous emptiness tripled in size but so did the burning desire to do better. The boy who grew to a man had dreams of playing professional football, encouraged by friends and family members and coaches who all said he had what it takes. The boy who grew to a man was determined to be successful. Some day he would be a millionaire--he knew this with an aching intensity that matched the ache of hunger in the pit of his stomach.
One night the man drove home from football tryouts in his car that glared back at him with a maddening drabness he tried hard to ignore. Tryouts had gone well. The man was entangled in thoughts of millions of fans and millions of dollars and failed to notice the millions of raindrops accumulating in the sky above him.
The rain fell.
It fell quietly at first, then grew with a sudden ferocity that even an attentive driver would have failed to foresee. The man felt his tires grow unpredictable and wondered why the car drifted left even though he was tugging the wheel to the right. The man did not have time to wonder anything else before a sudden impact left him senseless.
The man opened his eyes. All was quiet. He was standing in a hallway filled with light. Two identical doors opposite him ominously loomed--on each, an inscription. The man stepped closer to read.
The inscription on the left door read: Here lies ten million dollars. Open and it shall be yours.
The inscription on the right door read: Here lies inner peace. Open and it shall be yours.
The man read each inscription aloud and laughed. What an easy choice. With ten million dollars, inner peace was a given. The man grasped the left doorknob and pulled.
When the man stepped through the door, the hallway faded and he found himself in a hospital bed. He had been in a car accident and suffered a head injury. During his hospital stay, his left leg had been amputated in a case of mistaken identity and the man was awarded a ten million dollar settlement as a result.
The man lay awake at night and felt the emptiness on the left side of his bed where his leg once had been. With his ten million dollar settlement he had purchased the finest prosthetic that money could buy. Although professional football was no longer an option, the man felt as though he could still live the life he had always dreamed of living.
He went back to his hometown and shared his wealth with his family. He paid off their debt, bought them cars, sent them to school. Some were initially grateful, but then came back to him for more. Some squandered his gifts by going back into debt immediately after he had paid it off. Some used the money he shared to go deeper into substance abuse.
The man felt the emptiness inside him grow.
He became less generous over time. His initial ten million was now down to seven million, which he carefully invested and tended to, determined to grow it over time. Maybe if he could get to one hundred million dollars he would feel the glow he was expecting to feel from ten million. At night he flipped through hundreds of TV channels, carefully avoiding the sports channels.
The man awoke one morning to a ray of sunlight warming his cheek. He had been focused on his finances for days, and decided it was time to take a break and go for a little walk. The man walked down the street, unwashed and unattended. Though he had shoes on his feet, he went unnoticed by those he passed.
The man felt the resentment grow within his heart. Didn’t these people know he was a millionaire? Didn’t they know he owned the largest house in the nicest neighborhood? Hadn’t they seen him in his fancy car?
The man felt the empty space in his heart fill with anger.
“Look at me! Why won’t you people look at me? Do you know who I am? I could buy your souls if I wanted to!”
The people on the street around him began to murmur. Several took out their phones and made hushed calls, casting concerned glances his way. The police arrived.
The man was taken into custody for failing to cooperate when questioned. The police assumed he was one of the mentally ill homeless people they frequently encountered, noticing his missing leg, unshaven face and unwashed clothes.
As he was led away, the man felt tears burn the corners of his eyes, and looked with loathing at the pitying glances cast upon him. Though he was worth more than every passerby on the street combined, he could not shake the intense feeling of worthlessness that slowly replaced the anger in his heart.”
Jason waited in silence after the caller had spoken the final words of the story.
“What do you think of that man, Jason?”
“I think the man was a fool,” he responded without hesitation.
“Why do you think that?”
“Because, why would you choose ten million dollars when you could have inner peace? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I want ten million dollars as much as the next guy, but everyone knows inner peace is more valuable.”
“Jason. You are the man in the story.”
“No I’m not. I have both my legs, and I definitely don’t have ten million dollars. As a matter of fact, I’m 14K short compared to where I was this morning.”
There was silence for a moment before the voice began again.
“The hallway facing the two doors in the story represents the present moment. In every moment you are presented with a choice: inner peace or striving after something external. Every moment that you spend worrying about your stocks instead of focusing on the peace found in that moment, you choose the left door. Every time you look to the past with regret, you choose the left door. Every time you believe that wealth will bring you happiness, or that happiness can only be obtained in some future moment, you choose the left door.”
Jason felt a lump grow in his throat and thought of his daughter.
“When you choose the right door that leads to inner peace, all other things will fall into place. This is a choice that does not happen once in a lifetime, but happens in every moment throughout your entire lifetime.”
The line went dead.
Jason looked at his phone. The little red graph was beginning to creep back up again. If he got back in now--
“Daddy! Look how high mommy’s pushing me on the swing!”
Jason looked up at his daughter. Her tiny frame soared through the air and became silhouetted by the sun for an instant before she swung backward again toward her mother’s outstretched arms. She glowed like a tiny Angel.