Three people of great means sat on a mountain top under a luxurious tent. Helicopters stood nearby. Servants attended to their every need. The three travelers, self described nature lovers, were in the midst of an argument over the roads that they had taken to success.
The first, an enormous man with a salt and pepper beard, smooth head, and a belly you could rest a card table on, expounded, “In my mind’s eye I can see the road that I took to my success, straight and empty. Along the way I managed to avoid all pitfalls and chose the most direct route and relied on no one. No one dared to travel my road, so I had few competitors.”
Next to him was a woman business magnate, crusty and stern wrinkled. She insisted, “I’ve taken the most efficient route to success. I employed tens of thousands of people to work for me so I had to do very little and assumed no risk. I made sure my ‘people’ took all the falls and I coasted along Easy Street. Looking back, it is lined with the finest stores and restaurants all with people ready to wait on me. Those who would attempt to emulate me, I have destroyed.”
Next to the business magnate was another woman, young, blond, and beautiful. She laughed and said, “I got you both beat. I made my money the old fashioned way. I inherited it. I haven’t had to work a day in my life. I have people to do literally everything for me. I expect to look back on my life with a view of a polished, perfectly straight, grand avenue with exotic flowers along both sides. I say that I will give away all my money to charity when I die, but in the end, I won’t and what can anyone do about it?”
Her two companions nodded and laughed with her.
While they continued to argue, a lone figure appeared on the slope in the distance. Every few moments each of the wealthy individuals glanced in the direction of the steadily looming form and then turned back to argue with their fellows.
Eventually, the figure resolved into a man, dark from the sun, with tangled hair, and the most inexplicable beatific smile. The lone climber was dressed in tattered rags that hung limply from his lean form. Secured about his person were ropes and climbing gear that looked like it had been improvised from everyday household items. And yet there was that smile plastered across his sun spotted, gristly face.
When he got within ear shot the woman business magnate looked up at the rough climber, frowned, and demanded, “You there, what do you have to be happy about?”
The grizzled fellow looked placidly at her and then at the other two and, still smiling, said, “I am alive and I have this wonderful view to gaze upon and the sun is so warm on my face. I have conquered many things and I am just so happy to be here.”
The rich man grunted and looked him over. After a few seconds he asked, “Now what could you possibly have conquered?”
“I have beaten cancer and I was able to stay upbeat enough to help several fellow patients maintain the strength to continue to fight. I was able to eat breakfast this morning and hold my food down.”
The heiress retorted, “That’s not the kind of conquering we are talking about. See here, there is no way that your travels have been as glamorous as any of ours. Tell us of your great path through life.”
The man smiled his beatific smile and responded, “Oh, my road? I look back and see many switchbacks and ruts in the road. I’ve crashed and taken wrong turns. I’ve had to scrabble over sharp boulders that cut my hands and left me bruised and bloody. I have had times when I have had to crawl hand over hand through mud and muck. I have hung from the edge of a cliff terrified that I might fall, only to barely manage to scramble over the edge to sweet safety. I can see the whole world from the heights that I have reached.”
The three high altitude nature lovers looked up at the stooped, ragged figure and after a while the heiress started to laugh and then the other two joined in.
“I don’t get it,” said the business man. “You do realize that I can take a helicopter to this mountain top any time I wish?”
The beautiful woman added, “And we can be back to our warm, feather soft beds with silk sheets the very same day, while you must descend through the sharp rocks and mud to get back to your home. If you even have a home.”
The ragged fellow held up hand. “Oh, I don’t intend on descending the peak. I will continue along the ridge and offer a hand up to those who follow along my way.”
“What?!? You have nothing to give.”
The haggard climber looked the large man over and then looked at each of his companions and stated, “Nonsense. I have accumulated experience, an appreciation for the beauty of this world, and the knowledge that I have done my very best for myself and my fellow human beings. You can fly to the highest peaks as many times as you wish, yet I have only to gaze upon such a view once to recognize and always remember its beauty. You can never see with my eyes, or hear with my ears, or feel with my heart. All the money in the world can not buy you the sweetness of my victory over hardship and my appreciation for this peak I have climbed with my bare hands.”
“You will never convince us.”
“I don’t need to convince anyone,” the ragged man responded placidly over his shoulder as he strode away from them.
The three powerful people shouted at him to come back, but he continued along the ridge without so much as a glance back at them.
They spent the rest of the afternoon muttering to themselves.