There once lived a rich businessman. All day long he worked very hard to accumulate money, and all night long he worried about his fortune. Years came and went, and in that time he became very wealthy. He did absolutely everything he could to increase profits, even if it meant taking a few shortcuts along the way. His company employed thousands of people and although he paid them barely anything, he rationalized that he was doing them a favour by ensuring that they had a job to come to every day. Day after day the profit margins grew, while his entire workforce laboured hard while barely able to scrape by. Week after week, employees came and went. Some would retire, some would die, but there was always fresh blood to grease the company cogs.
There was competition; as is quite common in the corporate world, many other companies all over the world competed for the rights to sell the same products and services, however, there was a major difference as they took care of their employees. A fair wage with benefits not only increased performance, but profits as well. None of this mattered to the rich man, and he maintained the status quo of employing cheap labour. Sure, there was plenty of money to go around, but in his lavish lifestyle the rich man deemed his excess to be a necessity. “It's my responsibility to provide these hard working people, jobs”, he concluded with a nod. “After all, I'm doing them a service by keeping them employed. Hard work and struggle builds character”, he echoed, citing dogmatic ideology of capitalism.
“There's plenty to go around!”, cried his employees, but he ignored them and cut his entire staff's hours by a third to make a point. “We need benefits!”, the struggling workers tried to explain, but the rich man simply increased quotas. Year after year he continued to deny any possibility of advancement in life for his employees, and crushed all their hopes and dreams under his polished heel.
Then one day, the rich man took ill. He had money to spend on the world's best specialists, but they could do nothing to help his condition. He had no family; work had always come first in his life. There was no visitors either, because no one actually cared about him. Day and night he languished in bed, miserable and alone.
“Oh GOD!”, he cried aloud one day, “Why have you forsaken me? Have I not done as you commanded?” He weakly pounded his fist on the crisp white linen sheet and muttered, “I go to Church each Sunday. I keep thousands of families fed”. A sigh escaped his lips and the rich man slumped in the bed, weary from the outburst. His eyes shot toward the Heavens and they flickered as he uttered, “Why am I in such misery?”
A stillness came over the man, and he closed his eyes. His breathing became shallow, and the Doctor standing at the side of his bed left the room to find the priest to issue last rites. The rich man slipped into unconsciousness.
His eyes flickered open, and he was surrounded by a bright light. The rich man was on his feet, dressed in his Sunday best. “God?”, he called out timidly, “Is that you? Where am I?” He looked around, but could see nothing other than the pure white light surrounding him. There was no sound either. “Hello!”, he called out, but there was still no answer.
Suddenly, the light dimmed substantially, and the rich man realized he was standing in front of two large doors. They were made of carved marble, and covered in intricate runes with statuesque figures depicting a fierce battle between Heaven and Hell. The gleaming door knockers were ornate gold, and the matching rings sat in the mouths of two great golden creatures that he couldn't recognize.
A booming voice shook the man to the core, “CHOOSE!”
He swallowed hard and looked about in shock. “He-hello?”, he stammered, “Is someone there?” A heavy silence settled over him and he ran a nervous hand through his wispy white hair. He waited for a bit, but there was no answer. He waved his arms impatiently and looked around, “Choose what?”, he blurted.
The old man frowned as he examined the doors again. “Two doors”, he stated slowly, “Both nearly identical”. He took a deep breath and sighed heavily. Raising an eyebrow in curiosity, he reached out and grabbed the gold door knocker on the left. It felt so smooth! With a tug, the door slid open.
A great roar of voices emanated from within the vast room! The smell of exotic foods tickled his nose, making his mouth water, and before he realized it, the old man had stepped into the room. A massive wooden table in the middle of the room groaned under the weight of food from all over the world; succulent roasts, sausages, cheese, vegetables, breads, fruit, and even a burbling chocolate fondue fountain, covered the table top.
Seated around the table were men and women of all nationalities. People from all over the planet crowded around the giant table ready to partake of the feast, and it was a good thing too, for they all looked extremely emaciated and gaunt. To say they were skinny was an understatement, and most of them appeared to be on the verge of starvation. “How odd”, thought the rich man as he contemplated the absurdity of the moment, “They seem to be starving, but they have so much food”. It was then that he noticed that everyone in the room had 2 meter-long arms!
It was easy to see that there was no possible way for any of them to feed themselves, because even with their great reach, they could not bring the food to their mouths to eat. As they jostled and shoved, elbowed and pushed, no one was able to partake of the life-giving food. The voices cried aloud begging for a moments peace, but the chaos was a whirlwind of pain.
The rich man reeled from the sheer emotional trauma, and he staggered back to the door in disbelief. In a sudden rush of fear, he pried open the door and raced through to the other side.
Again, he was awash in white light. As he stood gasping for air, he looked at the other door. Curiosity nagged at his soul, and he strode over to the door on the right. He grasped the cold, gold, door knocker and gave it a tug.
Again he was met by the smell of rich foods, and this time his stomach growled in hunger. He hesitantly stepped through the door.
The room was exactly the same! A massive table laden with mouth-watering food was in the middle of a huge room, and crowded around it were humans from all walks of life. They also had 2 meter long arms, but everyone looked healthy and well fed.
The sound of laughter and giddy conversation echoed in the room. In confusion the rich man stared at the men and women around the table; there was no pushing or elbowing, and everyone was beaming with joy. He thought, “How can this be?”, as he remembered the other room where everyone was emaciated and sickly, “Their arms are the same. How can they be able to eat?”
As he continued to stare, the rich man noticed that instead of trying to feed themselves, everyone in the room was reaching across the table with their long arms and feeding the person sitting across from them! Everyone was happy and well fed!
Well, the rich man licked his lips and looked at the food. With a grunt he squeezed his way toward the table, but he just couldn't reach the food. He stood waiting for someone to feed him, however, no one paid any attention to him. With a heavy sigh of great disappointment, the rich man turned around and walked out of the room.
As the door closed behind him, the old man looked up in surprise to see God standing before him. He fell to his knees, and cried out, “Oh Lord, have mercy on a sinner. For all my failings, I have tried to be a good man! Now I am dead, and I wish to enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” He shook with passion as he spoke, so enraptured by the presence of Him.
God smiled down on the rich man and in a calm voice, stated simply, “You're not dead. You are merely dreaming”.
“What? Not dead?” The man's face wrinkled up in a frown as he thought hard. Pointing at the two doors behind him, he asked, “Is that not a depiction of Heaven and Hell behind those doors, oh God? A way to show me the errors of my ways, and make me humble?”
“Perhaps”, chuckled God, “Who can say, really”. His eyes twinkled with mischief as he reminded the old man, “You ARE dreaming after all”.
God crossed his arms, and flashed a knowing grin. “Did you know, that dreams are a reflection of the soul?”, he mused, “Perhaps your own soul is trying to tell you something”.
The man didn't know what to say; after all this was God he was talking to. A nagging thought was tugging at the edges of his conscious, and he stared at the Rapture of All that Is. “So, if I'm dreaming”, he rationalized, “Why are YOU here?”
God chuckled, and answered with a smile, “My sweet child. I am always with you, even when you don't want Me to be”. He shifted in His pure white robes and crossed His arms, “Even when you don't act loving, My love is all around you”, He chided.
The rich man had a nagging feeling that God was talking about the two rooms behind him. With a sigh of exasperation he meekly asked, “The tables with food represent my life's work, doesn't it”, he concluded.
“Very good”, beamed God, “I'm glad to see you're paying attention”. A huge smile radiated joy from the Omnipotent Being, and the old man felt a peace he had not known in a long time. God nodded at the man's thoughts and added, “You know what you have to do”.
“But, Lord!”, the rich man cried, “I am but an old man, and dying in my bed. How can I do what it is You want me to do?”
With a flash of light, God quickly reached down and tapped the man on the head. “Be healed, my son. Go forth and do My work”, He sang in melodious joy.
Light enveloped the man. With a gasp, he suddenly woke from his slumber. As he quickly looked around the room, he realized that everything was the way it was, however, he felt a strength in his limbs he had not felt in years. The rich man took a deep breath, and sighed happily. Somehow, his health had been returned to him, and regardless of the fact God had claimed the experience to simply be a dream, the old man knew better.
Doctors were baffled. Having already given up and left the man to die alone, they couldn't understand his complete return to full health!
The biggest surprise of all, however, was the change in the old man's behaviour! Within weeks of his near death experience, he started changing; excellent pension plans, full benefits, and fair wages quickly became the norm. The man married into a large family, and took great delight in the time spent with his loved ones. He gave money to charity, and volunteered in the community. He soon had the respect of a great many people.
There was standing room only at his funeral. As the services proceeded, there wasn't a dry eye in the Church when family and friends took turns talking about the love they shared with him.
For, while his wealth may not have been as great as it could have been, in the end he was much richer because he learned how to feed others. By feeding those around us, we are fed, and by loving others are we loved. Being rich isn't what you can't take with you when you die, but rather, what you can.
This short story is based on a lesson I learned a child.
"I once ascended to the firmaments. I first went to see Hell and the sight was horrifying. Row after row of tables were laden with platters of sumptuous food, yet the people seated around the tables were pale and emaciated, moaning in hunger. As I came closer, I understood their predicament.
"Every person held a full spoon, but both arms were splinted with wooden slats so he could not bend either elbow to bring the food to his mouth. It broke my heart to hear the tortured groans of these poor people as they held their food so near but could not consume it.
"Next I went to visit Heaven. I was surprised to see the same setting I had witnessed in Hell – row after row of long tables laden with food. But in contrast to Hell, the people here in Heaven were sitting contentedly talking with each other, obviously sated from their sumptuous meal.
"As I came closer, I was amazed to discover that here, too, each person had his arms splinted on wooden slats that prevented him from bending his elbows. How, then, did they manage to eat?
"As I watched, a man picked up his spoon and dug it into the dish before him. Then he stretched across the table and fed the person across from him! The recipient of this kindness thanked him and returned the favor by leaning across the table to feed his benefactor.
I suddenly understood. Heaven and Hell offer the same circumstances and conditions. The critical difference is in the way the people treat each other.
I ran back to Hell to share this solution with the poor souls trapped there. I whispered in the ear of one starving man, "You do not have to go hungry. Use your spoon to feed your neighbor, and he will surely return the favor and feed you."
"'You expect me to feed the detestable man sitting across the table?' said the man angrily. 'I would rather starve than give him the pleasure of eating!'
"I then understood God’s wisdom in choosing who is worthy to go to Heaven and who deserves to go to Hell."