A businessman, travelling to his next important meeting, felt suddenly overcome with weariness and brought his car to a halt on a country lane. Eyes to the ground he started walking towards a river to see a man with a fishing rod who waved at him to sit down.
For a while neither of them talked. The businessman was wrapped up in his thoughts about a company he wanted to sell. The fisherman was listening to the water as it softly licked the rocks.
“I’d like to live this life some day and sit by a river without a care in the world.” the businessman thought to himself.
“You can live it now”, said the fisherman looking at him with great kindness. “Sell your businesses and buy a fishing rod. The river welcomes everyone my friend.”
The businessman eyed him suspiciously, wondering how he’d read his thoughts and tentatively touched the fisherman’s arm.
“I’m very real”, said the fisherman. “The question is, are you?”
The businessman sighed, aware of a knotted heaviness in his chest. “Got no idea what real means” he said.
“In five years time would doing what you are doing now have been worth the sacrifice?” the fisherman asked. The businessman solemnly shook his head.
“In which case, have you considered simplifying your needs?” the fisherman asked.
“Who do you think you are giving ME advice?” the businessman said.
“Your friend” said the fisherman.
A sparrow hopped onto the fisherman’s rod, chirped at the river flowing beneath and took off into the sky. “That sparrow’s free and so could you be”, the fisherman said. “Everything is a matter of choice.” The conversation fell into a lull after that, the fisherman distracted by the changing colours in the water as the sun sprinkled splinters of turquoise over its surface. The businessman was distracted by his jumbled thoughts on the meaning of freedom.
“Do you know what human beings one great weakness is?” the fisherman asked. “It’s the need to impress others. It’s the need to be recognised and have more and better than your neighbour – and what does more and better get you? A desire for even more than never ends. Happiness isn’t out there in the future. Your life isn’t going to become happier because you’ve got another acquisition. You’ve got to know when to stop and count your blessings.”
“Alright then”, the businessman sniffed. “Tell me what am I’m supposed to do?”
“Close your eyes and relax” the fisherman said. Of its own accord, the businessman’s head sank into his hands. He was if truth be known, exhausted, and it would do his eyes good to have a rest.
“Take a few deep breaths”, the fisherman said.
The businessman did so wondering why he was listening to a stranger who spoke in riddles.
“Just remember that happiness can’t exist in complication” the fisherman said. “Life is a gift that was never meant to be a stone around your neck, so take the stone off with whomever’s name is carved into it, throw it away and get to know yourself. Not as a somebody, but as a contented nobody. Then you’ll know what freedom means.”
The caws and squawks of a flock of seagulls passing overhead drowned out the rest of the fisherman’s words until there was nothing left but a faint echo. The businessman opened his eyes to discover the fisherman had vanished.
“What the heck, I must have been dreaming.” the businessman said. He glanced at his watch. What had he been thinking, wasting time by a river? After all, he had acquired his new company; he had furniture to buy for the bigger house he was moving into.
The businessman marched off without so much as a backward glance, which was a great shame because if he had, he might have seen the fishing rod that had been left by God’s messenger in the hope he’d come to his senses before it was too late.