There once was a fisherman who was particularly adept at catching fish. He lived high on a hill overlooking the sea above a tiny town far away from the main city, in a little one-room cottage with his old mother, his wife and a young son. Every day, he would get up at dawn, take his net and float over the ocean in his little boat, catching as many fish as he could. And because he was quite a good fisherman, he could catch quite a many fish. At the height of the day, he would return from the ocean with a catch big enough to sell with a bit left over for dinner. After cleaning his boat and net he made the long trudge up the hill home to his wife for an evening meal and a good rest.
One hot, sunny day, a businessman came to the town and noticed the fisherman’s particularly adept skill at fishing.
“Hey,” he said, full of energy, ideas and enthusiasm, “You should expand! You could take on a couple more apprentices and teach them to fish like you. Then you could pay them a little wage and take the rest home for yourself!”
“And what would I do with all that extra?” asked the fisherman slightly, as he bent to pick up the other corner of the net.
“Well…” explained the businessman, “You could invest it in a larger boat. Which means you could get more fish! Of course, you would need somewhere to prepare and sell the fish, so you could also get a factory. You would have many people working for you and create a huge empire!”
“And how would I run this empire?” asked the fisherman, a slight wrinkle of the brow feathering his forehead.
“Well, you would need to work quite long hours. And sometimes, at night, you might stay awake worrying about it. You may get grumpy and disgruntled at times but you would have something you’ve grown yourself and can be very, very proud of!” finished the businessman, wiping a bead of sweat from him neck with a red hankerchief.
“And what would I do with this empire?” questioned the fisherman, now staring at the businessman.
“You would sell it!” exclaimed the businessman. “You would sell it for a huge sum and then be able to do whatever you wanted with life! You could have long lazy dinners with your wife. Or just spend the day fishing!”
The sun pierced the eyes of the fisherman as his mouth smiled a slow loppy smile to the right. He picked up the three fish for his long lazy dinner with his wife, threw them over his shoulder and walked up the hill for a good rest, ready for another day of fishing tomorrow.
– – –
I don’t know where I heard it but this story keeps running around and around in my head lately. It’s like there’s two paths to life; one, striving for Bigger and Better and More and the other… just ‘living’ life. Each has its glint of promise and its black hole of purposelessness.
Where’s the Contentment in striving for more and more?
But where’s the Purpose in simply living and dying?
I’ve thought of this story particularly during bus rides through regional Columbia in the past two days. Wedging arm, knee and foot in any hold I can find to prevent being thrown from the seat, the only possible past time is staring out the window. At shanty shacks or, rather, structures, where one, sometimes two women sit, putting oranges into long orange net-like bags which are then hung on the edge of the log support beams, to be sold for a dollar or less.
These women’s days are filled with stuffing, sitting and occasionally selling in the hot sun of a Colombian Summer. Buses rage past, throwing dust clouds over the dirty toddlers clambering in the grass. A few lounge on hessian sacks, blinking, never smiling.
Meanwhile, my manicured fingernails dig into the seat in front as I try to protect the Macbook stuffed inside an Italian leather handbag from the exhuberant antics the Colombians term ‘driving’ – which is pretty rich coming from me – as I bounce from gaining my paragliding license in Bucarumanga to a week of sightseeing in Medellin.
I don’t know the answer to which is the best way to live life.
I’m grateful to be asking the question though.