| There once was a rich man who was wise and just in all of his affairs. He had amassed great wealth honestly, exploiting only his own tremendous sacrifice and hard work. Nevertheless, as he walked the many rooms of his palace, as he shook hands with his many friends, and as he looked over his many valuable possessions, he felt empty. “How can this be?” he thought to himself. “I have achieved everything I set out to do. Many men envy me, and I know no one who is more successful than me. I have often heard that there is more to life than money, but now I must determine what that thing is, cost what it may.”
So, knowing that he would never find the answer within the confines of his own hubris, the rich man set out to find it elsewhere. He went alone. Even though he could easily have been flanked by a legion of mercenaries, he chose solitude in his travels. He wore only a crude woolen robe and carried only a rough-hewn walking stick. The rich man deliberately rebuffed his many wardrobes of silk robes and selection of bejeweled canes and staffs in favor of these two humble items. “If the answer lies not with money, then I must put it behind me,” he thought. The only other possession he carried was the ring that bore his seal. If he were gone long and returned with an unkempt and obscuring beard, it would identify him to the guardians of his estate.
The rich man traveled many days and many miles. He lived as a pauper and saw the world through a beggar’s eyes. The mercy of others sustained him, and though he appreciated their kindness, he felt that the answer still lay outside his grasp. He huddled next to many other unfortunates in great cities, and he suffered alone in the wilderness. Try as he might, though, none of these experiences yielded what the rich man sought.
One day, when his servants, caretakers, accountants, groundskeepers, and guards likely considered him long dead, and some had even forgotten him, the rich man gave up. He decided, “There are many mysteries in this world, and this must be one that I am not meant to understand. Since I have failed to discern the thing that is most important in life, I will return to the closest thing to happiness I have known. My riches and their accompanying fame will console me in my disappointment.”
Toward the end of the long trek back to his palace, as happens often in life, the rich man finally discovered the secret he had just given up as inscrutable. It happened along a hot, dusty, forgotten highway in late summer. The rich man stopped to rest near a tiny crack of a stream, and if he had not been so thirsty, he would not have dared to drink from its murky shallowness. After he had quenched his overpowering thirst, he wiped his mouth and gazed up the road at a miserable little hut. Its point leaned to one side, and it looked as if it would collapse at any moment. He had seen hundreds of domiciles like this one during his journeys, so he thought nothing of it. As he neared, however, he saw something that seized his attention. A poor man hunched over next to the hut, watering a single daisy with a rusty watering can. The rich man hesitated to approach the gardener, because a dog flanked him. However, the rich man quickly discovered that the animal was old, tired, and blind, so he spoke.
“Poor man, why do you waste precious water on a single flower? It seems that you need that water for yourself and your dog.”
“Why do you call me ‘poor man’? You are but a highway hermit yourself.”
The rich man wished not to reveal himself, so he remained silent and allowed the gardener to continue speaking.
“Since I am very poor and own very few possessions, those that I have are infinitely important to me. This daisy means more to me than a rich man would value an acre of rose gardens.”
As the poor man continued watering his flower, the truth of his words struck the rich man. He decided to make the poor man an offer.
“Friend, though you know it not, you have shared great wisdom with me today. I cannot truly repay this gift, but as a display of gratitude, I would like for you to stay in my palace for one month.”
The poor man stared, dumbfounded, for a few seconds, and then began laughing with great, chest-heaving guffaws. When he finished, he said, “So you see, fellow poor man, you have repaid my service with great laughter.”
The rich man was undeterred, and from within his robe he produced the ring that showed his great seal. It was brilliant in the hot sun, and the poor man immediately saw that it was a piece of great value.
“It is true! Then why do you travel as a poor man?”
“In the way that mattered, I was a poor man. Will you accept my offer? Will you stay at my palace and enjoy my grounds and possessions for one month?”
The gardener seemed anxious to go, but hesitated, “Who will watch over my dog? Who will water and protect my daisy?”
“I will, friend. Take this ring, and be the guest of honor at my estate. I will keep your dog company and make certain that your flower remains well-watered and healthy.”
After the rich man explained the way to his palace, the poor man patted the old dog on the head, grabbed up his own gnarled walking stick, and joyfully sauntered up the dusty highway. The rich man and the dog both stared at the clouds billowing up behind the poor man, but only the rich man could see them.
Mindful of his duty, the rich man assumed his post at the dilapidated hut. He fed and cared for the old dog, and he watered the daisy diligently. Every now and again, a party of rich travelers would pass by in horse-drawn carriages. He always returned their looks of pity with a kind smile.
After a month, there was no sign of the poor man. After two months, he still had not returned. The rich man decided to find a trustworthy caretaker to put in charge of the little hut’s business, and it took several days to do so. Finally, near evening one day, a young man came near with a large pack on his back. The rich man explained his situation to the young man; he offered him a large sum to watch the hut for a few days until he could return. The young man recognized and trusted the truth in the rich man, and having no more pressing matters of his own, he agreed to stay. The rich man quickly set out, shouting his parting words to the young man, “Be kind to the old dog, and do not forget to care for the daisy!”
His journey was uneventful, especially since he had travelled to and from his palace many times. The rich man considered confronting the poor man about his delayed return, but then he decided to use his disguise to see what the poor man was doing. He snuck around his own estate, evading his own guards and caretakers until he finally found the poor man. On the very western edge of his grounds, the rich man spotted the poor man in his rose gardens. The rich man hid himself behind a masterfully carved stone arch and watched him.
The poor man wore the rich man’s most expensive silk robe. It bore crests and designs of great intricacy. The poor man wore a crown of many jewels, and just one of the shoes that he wore was worth more money than he had ever seen before the rich man had granted him a stay at his estate. The rich man looked on in wonder at the rapid transformation of this simple man. As the poor man approached, the rich man hunched lower and observed even more intently. The poor man was inspecting the rose bushes with great interest, dozens of them at a time. Occasionally he would pause, bend over, stand up, and then resume his walk. “He is weeding the soil around the bushes,” surmised the rich man. “Even in his great wealth, he is still a gardener at heart!”
The poor man continued to walk toward the rich man’s hiding place, until he was only a few steps away. This time, when the poor man bent over, removed a weed, discarded it, and moved on, the rich man looked onto the cobblestone path where it lay, and saw that it was a daisy. Because it grew in carefully farmed soil, and because it was regularly given water filtered by the rich man’s botanists, it was twice as tall, twice as healthy, and twice as beautiful as the daisy the poor man had tended next to his humble hut. Upon seeing it, however, the rich man turned on his heel and left his estate, never to return again.