Leaving Salem

I heard the story of a financial broker who took a vacation to Mexico. His outing carried him to a secluded fishing village on the country’s western coast. It was a place of peace and tranquility. Strolling on the beach one afternoon, he saw a fisherman coming in to port. This fisherman had caught one of the most beautiful fish the broker had ever seen. He asked the fisherman from where the fish was caught. The fisherman answered, “I have the most perfect fishing spot in the Pacific. I catch a fish like this every morning. Then I go home to my wife and clean the fish at our little villa. In the afternoon, we take a siesta and go visit with our friends at the cantina. In the evening we return home and play with our grandchildren. In the morning I get in my boat and the day starts again. It is a wonderful life.”

The broker said to the fisherman, “I think I can help you. If you show me where this fishing spot is, we could hire charter boats and tour guides. They would bring thousands of tourists here each year. The town would grow and expand. People would travel from around the world to see this beautiful place.” The fisherman was dumbfounded. “Why would I want to do something like that?” he asked. But the broker was unyielding: “Well, then you would be a wealthy man! As proprietor you would have more money than you could spend. Then, you could retire and move to a small, secluded village. You could fish whenever you wanted. You could spend all your spare time with your wife and friends in your villa, and play with your grandchildren. It would be a wonderful life.”

The writer of Proverbs prayed this prayer: “God, I beg this from you before I die. Give me neither poverty nor riches. Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you; but if I am too poor, I may steal and insult God’s holy name.” This is the “Goldilocks” Proverb. You remember that fairy tale. Too hot, too cold, just right, or its variation is the slogan by which she lives. It is also the slogan of this writer. He needs neither too much nor too little. He needs just enough. But how much is enough? It’s hard to say. However, getting, possessing, or having “enough” is not likely the trouble. Being satisfied with what we have is the sticking point.

More than a century ago Leo Tolstoy wrote about a greedy farmer in the tale, “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” This farmer was discontent with his life because he never seemed to have enough. He moved town to town looking for that greener grass and greater opportunity. On his journeys he heard rumors of a far-away place where a distant tribe possessed more land than anyone could walk over in a year. And it was all there for the taking. He went to investigate and found the rumors to be true. The farmer met with the tribal chief who informed him that he could in fact have all the land he wanted. All he had to do was pay a thousand rubles and begin walking in a circle. Everything within that circle, so long as the circle was completed by sundown, would be his.

Early the next morning the farmer began his greedy acquisition of land. He began running, as quickly as he could, trying to make as large a circle as possible. Late in the day he realized how far from the starting point he was and began the desperate return trip. He ran with all his waning strength back to the beginning of his circle. Just as the sun was setting he arrived, sweaty and wheezing, at the start line. The people cheered and celebrated. Never had anyone acquired so much land in a single day! In joy they bent down to rouse the farmer from his exhaustion. He did not stir. He was dead.

Tolstoy concludes the story by saying: “The farmer’s servant picked up a spade and dug a grave and buried him. Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.”

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