There was a man who decided that he wanted to get the most out of life. As a child he had been raised in a family where both of his parents loved him very much, but they were very busy people. Because of this they often bought him things distract him.. They bought 5000 piece puzzles and tinker toys. They bought Lincoln Logs, Legos, books, models kits, and computer programs. Anything they could think of that would occupy their child’s time they bought. While the boy was always busy he was also always looking for the next thing to make him happy.
As the boy grew he made many friends. Some of the other children became his friend because of what he had. Other children became his friend because their lives were very similar. They too knew what it was like to have parents who loved them dearly but were too busy to spend much time with them. These children all played well together and the boy was happy to have some people who liked him, who knew how he felt, and to spend time with him. They spent days playing with each other making things and dreaming about what the world would be like when they grew up and had families of their own.
As the days passed into years the boy grew into a young man. The amount of friends he had dwindled and he started to make plans for the rest of his life. He knew that he was not truly happy but he was not sure why. So the young man decided that he needed to do everything bigger and better than his parents had. Since his parents had very successful careers he too needed a successful career so he enrolled in the best business college that money could buy.
While at college he committed himself to his studies. The young man thought that if he just worked hard enough he would find fulfillment. While the A’s that always appeared on his papers and report cards brought temporary joy to his life, there was always another paper to be written or project to be turned in. There was little time to celebrate his victories and even less people to share them with as he became more and more committed to his schooling. As the young man looked around he realized that there were very few other students who put forth the effort that he did and they had no more time for him than he did for them. At the end of his schooling he graduated with a perfect 4.0 and enrolled in graduate school where the cycle was repeated again, but this time to a greater degree. At the end of graduate school he was hired by a very prominent company where he quickly moved up the corporate ladder as his work ethic was noticed by those higher up.
As the young man moved up the corporate ladder he continued to acquire items which he thought would bring happiness. He spent nights at the opera and symphony listening to the best music and musicians that the world had to offer. There were weeks that he went out to four-star restaurants every night and sampled the best cuisine that money had could buy. He began to collect art since his parents had instilled a love for the high arts. As his collections grew, the man needed a place hold everything so he built himself a large house overlooking the ocean.
This house had everything that a person could possibly need. And when the man realized that he needed or wanted something that was not part of the house he had a person come in and add whatever was lacking to his house. As time went on the house began to look less like a house and more like a castle. The castle then transformed into a small village where the man could get everything that he needed. He even bought the company that he had worked for and worked his home. Since he had everything he needed on his property he rarely went out and only those who worked for him came in.
The man thought he had everything he ever wanted. He had a stable of cars, personal cooks, trainers, house help, doctors, lawyers, and every kind of professional help that a person could possibly need. He began to buy the property of those around him, sometimes paying ten times more than the property was worth. Yet, even though he had all of these things he still felt an emptiness inside. And worst of all there was one neighbor who would not sell. The man tried unsuccessful lawsuits, pressure, even rudeness but this person would not sell.
One day as the man was out walking along his property he came to the fence that separated his property from his neighbor’s. As he looked over the fence he saw a house that needed repair, a rusty old station wagon in the driveway, trashcans that were overflowing, and a yard that was knee high in weeds. “How can anybody live like this?” the man thought to himself. No sooner had the words formed in his head than he heard a woman singing an old gospel song thanking God for all that he had given her. At this the man was truly amazed since he could see that God had given her very little. But there was something in the tone that kept the man there that day. Not only did he sit just outside the fence that day, but he found himself often returning to the fence, looking over, and then just listening to the women on the other side of the fence.
After weeks of looking over the fence the man finally saw the woman come out of the house. There she stood in a ragged bathrobe, pink bedroom slippers on her feet, easily 100 pounds overweight, singing a song of happiness and gratitude. The man couldn’t believe his eyes. How in the world could this person continue to pray and thank a God who would allow her to live like this? He was repulsed and at the same time could not force himself to leave. There was something about this woman that kept drawing him back day after day.
Weeks and months passed and the man found himself drawn to the woman’s fence so that he could look over, listen, and try and figure out what it was she had. If he could only figure out what it was, he was sure he could buy some of it too and he would finally be happy. One day as he sat in the rain looking over the fence the woman came out and much to his surprise she came right up to the fence. With a smile and look of contentment that confused the man she introduced herself and asked him if he would like some coffee. Embarrassed but intrigued the man accepted her offer and ventured onto her property. As he entered the house he was repulsed at the living conditions. There were old newspapers scattered around, an old black and white television with aluminum foil for antennas, and the only art that she had were velvet paintings of dogs playing pool and cards. The coffee that the woman poured was the worst coffee that he had ever tasted and the man was began to think of a way he could get out of the house quickly, but there was something that kept him there. Maybe he was there because of the contentment on the woman’s face. Maybe he stayed there because he wanted to get rid of the eyesore that he saw her property to be. Maybe he stayed because the God that she sang about had planned this all along. Whatever the reason, the man stayed. The two talked and talked about all sorts of things and the man realized that they had quite a bit in common. And best of all, this woman had showed hospitality, not because she had to but because she had wanted to.
This meeting was replicated time and time again over the next few months. The man would walk over to the fence and look over. He would listen to the songs sung by the woman and eventually she would come out and invite him in. He tried bringing her coffee and she refused. He offered to have her yard cleaned and she politely declined. He even tried to give her one of his cars and was resisted again. Over time the man came to love the woman and invited her to move on to his estate where she could enjoy all that was his. Again she politely turned down his offer.
One night the man had a dream. In his dream he saw his life coming to an end. At his memorial service there were lots of business people in their expensive suits paying their respect but nobody seemed to miss him very much. The only person who seemed to be crying was the woman from the other side of the fence. She was truly grieving the loss of her friend. It had been years since anyone had called him friend. As the man awoke everything became clear to him. He realized that all that he had accumulated meant very little. It was only as he gazed over the fence and looked into the life of someone else that he found happiness.
As morning came and the sun crested the horizon the man vowed to spend the rest of his life not on making his house bigger, but on living on the other side of the fence. He would go out and help others. He would give to charities and begin to give things away. All of a sudden the man found a great new freedom. As soon as it seemed an appropriate hour the man sprinted to the fence and looked over. There was his friend, dressed as usual, smiling at the man. She knew that he had changed. For the first time, her friend wore a smile which matched hers. That day they shared the best cup of coffee the man could ever remember drinking. From that day on he lived on the other side of the fence.