I am indebted to my teacher, that magnificent purple and iridescent blue dragonfly who visits to tell me stories. This one was especially urgent for him recently.
The lights in the room dim. Teacher pulls a wing-back chair to the edge of his stage, settling into its purple and blue upholstery, as he encourages us to gather around on the bean bags scattered around the classroom.
“An elderly businessman spent his life building his fortune,” he starts. He lights a classic smoking pipe and takes a long puff to continue recounting the following story:
As the end neared, his attorney asked him who would inherit his riches. The businessman, puzzled, thought back to the people with whom he’d had contact throughout his life, the men and women who helped him with his daily tasks of life – his nurses and doctors, his butler and maids, his lawyers and chauffeur, and the employees he saw every day when he worked on the 197th floor of the skyscraper he built for himself.
Unwilling to allow his hard-earned fortune to fall into the wrong hands, the businessman vowed to find a person worthy of his riches.
He remembered being a precocious boy. Although his work at school was acceptable, it was not what others accepted in order to fit within the walls of conventional reality. He knew he would have to think outside of the ordinary.
He remembered growing up poor and climbing the sometimes-wobbly ladder of success, many times alone, but on occasion, someone would reach back and pull him up. He remembered the few people who offered him comfort on lonely nights when nothing was going right. He remembered the people who gave him a reason to smile. He knew he would be able to find someone as resourceful and kind as himself.
Inspired, he knew he could not pass this world until a suitable home for his fortune was found.
He would look for someone who would fight for what he knew was right.
Many times in his life, he found himself up against situations pitting honesty against heartlessness. He discovered people more concerned with winning against all odds. Over the years, he recognized some of those very same people fighting against the person they had become and trying to right their many wrongs only to die lonely and bitter.
He would look for someone who was not defined by a number or an expectation.
One day, early in his career, he walked to his average, unassuming 9-to-5 job in the belly of some corporate building. He would pass men and women on the streets begging for money, some in exchange for a toothpick flag or an earnest ‘God Bless You,’ others in exchange for a newspaper or a hot dog. He wondered why no one had ever stopped him to offer him the one thing he would really have wanted. Instead of waiting, and against the well-meaning suggestions from his coworkers about the risks he’d be taking and the chances against success, he became that man and created something no one could live without.
Soon, he no longer had to concern himself with following in someone else’s footsteps already laid out in the pavement of life. He learned the expected can never be remarkable. He became the man no one had expected.
He would look for someone who was kind.
Many times, as he climbed the slippery corporate walls, he would reach for a helping hand. Only with the boost offered by one stranger or another was he able to succeed so he had always looked for others like himself, always willing to lend a hand or back a dream.
“We are all on the Earth together, and when one man falls, we all fail,” he preached. He learned to offer help to honest men who needed it.
And so the man lived a long, unassuming life.
After many years, much to his attorney’s chagrin, word got out that the businessman sought an heir. He was flooded with unwanted applications, requests for an audience, and the impassioned requests of friends and strangers alike.
Always the applicants were wanting in at least one of his three requirements, someone who would fight for what is right, someone who would not settle for someone else’s definitions, someone who would help his fellow man up the slippery slope of life.
The old man got older and his shoulders slouched with the immensity of his task. Then came the day when he walked in on a burglary in his own home.
The two thieves froze when the lights came on. Neither was armed and when the businessman cocked his hunting rifle, the men knew what would be next.
“What are you doing here?” said the businessman, pointing the rifle at one man, then the other. “I am a wealthy man and I could shoot you dead for even being here.”
The older of the robbers, a man old enough to have a family and a job, held out his hand. “Please, sir. Please let me explain why we are here tonight, of all nights.”
With a nod from the old man, the burglar continued.
“When I was a young man, with dreams of a career itching at my feet, my parents were killed in a horrendous accident. That left me, as the oldest, with the task of raising my sisters and my brother.”
He nodded toward the younger thief. “My dreams of success failed to become greater than my family responsibility. I knew that the greater good would be to help my family.”
He paused for the old man’s reaction. The businessman, knowing the burglar had passed his first test, took a seat and asked the two thieves to do the same, but the rifle remained trained on its target.
“I took humble jobs as my brother and sisters grew. Although I could never afford the luxuries they wanted, I was always there for them. When there were ceremonies at school, I applauded for them from the audience. When they received awards, I snipped the articles from the newspaper and had them framed. When my sisters went on dates, I would meet the boys and be certain they understood how much I would do to keep my sisters safe. But when my siblings wanted money to follow their dreams, I had to become creative.”
The man raised his hands. “This is what I do, but never from anyone who cannot afford it.”
“Young man, what about your confession is going to stop me from calling the cops?” the old man asked.
“Well, sir, as a student, I excelled at research. I was going to be a famous writer. I often create stories to entertain my siblings and I have journals full of those stories waiting for them to be read to their children. The time to put my desires before my beloved siblings never came. I have been unable to do more than dream.”
That fact didn’t impress the old man. That didn’t stop the thief, “The point isn’t that I write or that I dream, sir,” he said. “The point is that I’m an excellent researcher.”
He swung his arm toward his brother. “My brother’s dream is to become a businessman such as yourself. In searching for suggestions, we found a news story about your quest for the perfect successor—”
The old man smirked, “The truth rears its ugly head. You do mean to rob me.” He settled his rifle into his shoulder and took aim at the older burglar’s head.
“There is more, sir,” the burglar said.
The businessman nodded, but the rifle had found a permanent home on his shoulder.
“I spoke of being a researcher. I researched where you lived and when you would be here with the intent to allow my brother to meet you. We tried to get an appointment past your secretaries and your butler. When those attempts failed, we called your attorney and your chauffeur. My brother here even became friendly with your chamber maid, who offered to help him meet you, but at every place along the way our efforts met with obstacle after obstacle.”
The thief stood and stepped toward the businessman, who took in a sharp breath before readjusting the end of his rifle.
“You see, we knew when you would be home. We knew when the last member of your staff went home for the night. We knew where the security cameras are located.” He signaled toward the rifle. “We also knew you have no ammunition.”
Slowly, the businessman lowered the rifle.
“My brother just wants the chance I never had, sir. Will you at least give him that much?” he said, standing behind his brother in the old wing-back chair next to the fireplace.
The older man settled his empty rifle onto the couch next to him, his eyes intent on the face of the wanna-be burglar.
“Tell me, young man, for you are young to an old man such as myself, why don’t you just rob me? Isn’t it easier, and more profitable, than telling me such a long story?”
“Oh, no, sir. You misunderstand. I am here to get your attention. I have a job that does not pay well. What I do to help my siblings with their dreams is tell stories to people who will listen. They pay me what they can when they can. What I wanted tonight was simply your attention. I ask only that you give my brother an open mind and a chance at his dream.”
The old man rested his chin in his hand as he considered his two unexpected guests. “You have told me about how you lost your dream when your parents died and you had to become parent to your siblings. Was that true?”
“So you were willing to recognize and fight for what was right.”
The older thief shrugged with a nod.
“And, despite the fact that you were unable to follow your dream, you are willing to help others reach theirs.”
“Finally, let me get this straight, regardless of how many times you were refused an appointment with me, you persevered, took an unexpected approach and managed to hold my attention for nearly an hour.”
“I suppose so, sir.”
The old man stood. “All these years, I have sought a successor who met my three requirements. Tonight, I have found such a man.”
The older thief shook his head, “Oh no, sir, don’t make a decision without hearing his ideas. He is my brother, and I think he’s brilliant, but you are the businessman. You need to make the decision that is right for you. I am far from being an expert.”
The businessman, walking straighter than he’d walked in years, stood next to the older brother. “No, young man, it is not your brother I speak of. Something I learned as a young man is a lesson you have retold tonight.”
With his hand on the older thief’s shoulder, “You have succeeded tonight with a skill that is not ordinary. What I learned as a young man myself is that ordinary and normal can never be remarkable. You, my friend, are remarkable and, as long as you refuse to allow anyone to change you, you will inherit my veritable kingdom.”
His story finished, teacher taps his pipe into his hand. “That, my dear students, is one of many paths toward the Kingdom of Source.”
He flicks his hand as if to spray his ashes over us. Instead of ashes, though, what come down are sparks of light like flickers of fireworks, before he transforms himself back into the dragonfly.
The Dragonfly’s Student