He heard of a wise old man who had discovered happiness in his life so he went to find him. The young man was himself a joyless wanderer.
When he found him, the old man was alone in his house. Dispensing with pleasantries, the young man asked but one question: How can I find happiness in my life?
The wise man took an immediate liking to the wanderer as he reminded him so much of himself. He replied,
“In the desert, where there is no possibility of life, you will find that the most basic necessities are treasures. I have buried the secret there, in the land between civilizations, in the desert.”
“What will I need to do to get there?” the young man asked.
“You must go naked and you will need these…”
The old man handed him a pistol with two bullets and a shovel.
“Best of luck, young man.”
The young man did as he was told. Stripped of all his clothes and possessions, he journeyed deep into the desert. At noon of the fifth day, when the sun was at its highest point, the young man could almost chew on the wise man’s words.
Basic necessities. Surely, he meant food or water and the mere thought of these things gave him an aching joy, for he was terribly thirsty and terribly hungry. The old man was right, true happiness comes from being content with the basics.
By the tenth day, the young man’s body was covered with blisters and sores so painful, he no longer cared for food or water, just shade and ointment. The old man was right, he thought, true happiness comes from an absence of pain. It cannot get more basic than this.
By the twentieth day, the man’s mind had gone delusional with obsessive thought. The focus of his thoughts was no longer with the purpose of his journey (which was to find happiness), it was concerned more with the pistol and the shovel.
It had occurred to him, even before his journey into the desert, that the old man might be giving him a convenient out in case he failed to find the buried secret. The most obvious use for these items was to dig his own grave with the shovel and end his life of misery with the pistol. Is this then the secret to finding happiness…to simply end our life of pain? Only one thing stayed his hand.
Two bullets. Not one.
Why? For as far as his eyes could see, there was not another living soul in this God-forsaken desert on whom to use the extra bullet. Was he to shoot himself twice before he died? Over the next few days, this extra bullet saved his life.
On the fortieth day, the man came to a decision. The burning sand made each step unbearable so he decided to use the pistol to shoot his feet numb. On the surface of it, even the delusional man recognized that this was absurd. But try as he might, he could not think of another purpose for these two bullets. His hands? How then would he use the shovel? It was the only sort of logic available to him so he took it.
Without hesitation, he shot his feet and he doubled over in pain. It seems that he was wrong. His feet were numb, yes, but he could not stand, much less walk. It occurred to him that perhaps this journey was meant to be taken on his knees.
But no more…he had finally lost hope. Here, in the desert, without a way to end his life (his only wish now–that the man had given him three bullets), he was destined to die a slow death in the pursuit of happiness.
X marks the spot. When he opened his eyes, he noticed that the blood from his feet had formed a crude X in the sand. Shovel in hand, he began to dig furiously. After about an hour, he came upon a treasure chest, the type you see in pirate tales and adventure stories.
With his last ounce of strength, he lifted it to the surface and paused before opening the chest. What would he find?
Taking a deep breath, he opened it to find a small piece of paper with a message scribbled in black ink.
You are so loved.
Had it been food, water, shelter, shoes, ointment or any of the basic necessities needed to sustain life, they would come with it only a temporary reprieve.
But here in the knowledge that the love he gave was returned to him, he was given assurance, our most primary and sustaining of needs.
Pistol by his side, he realized that it was his choice all along to use one bullet or two, but it never occurred to him to use none. He had shot himself in the foot for no reason at all.
He simply needed to dig.
He smiled and let the sun’s warmth shine down.