Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
A man was out walking with his best friend one day. As they discussed various things both light-hearted and serious, another traveler happened across their path. After introductions were made, the man asked the traveler if there was anything he could do for him.
“Well, actually, I was wondering if you could help me out,” the traveler replied. “This path is new to me. I was wondering if you could help me make a choice regarding the fork I see ahead.”
The man paused and turned to his friend. After a brief consultation, the man gave some counsel regarding each choice. After the man was finished, the traveler looked slightly bemused.
“It sounds like you’ve been down each path!” the traveler stated. “I didn’t know anybody could walk both of them. I thought one had to choose one or the other!”
“I actually haven’t been down either path.”
“So how do you know these things?”
“I asked my friend,” the man replied, motioning to his friend standing next to him.
The traveler looked to where the man was motioning but saw nothing. He turned back to the man in confusion. After studying the slight smile on his face for a moment or two, the traveler muttered a brief thanks and went on his way.
Farther along, the man and his friend came across another traveler injured on the side of the road. Moved to compassion, the man and his friend knelt down next to the traveler, observing a severely twisted and swollen knee that made further travel impossible.
“Could you help me?” the traveler begged. “I don’t have any first-aid and I’m in a lot of pain!”
“I’m afraid I don’t have any first-aid either,” the man replied, “but my friend is a doctor and can take care of it.”
The traveler looked around. “What friend?”
“The one standing next to you.”
The traveler looked to her left and right. “You’re crazy!” she spat in irritation. She turned back to her wound and ignored the man further. The man and his friend moved on.
The scenery changed. They crossed a bridge over a tranquil stream, coming across another traveler leaning over the rail. The man came alongside the traveler, while his friend stood nearby. The traveler and the man struck up a conversation. Each became impressed with the wisdom of the other.
“You have learned much while walking this path,” the traveler stated at one point. “Who was your teacher?” The man described his friend standing next to him.
“I heard of this friend of yours from a few people,” the traveler replied, “and he seems like a wise chap. Yet, I believe the wisdom you attribute to this friend of yours has always existed inside of you. Truth is, nobody could be as wonderful as you describe. I’m sorry, sir, but I simply don’t believe he exists.” The traveler then rose, bade the man “good-bye”, and continued on his way.
The man and his friend continued along the path in silence. The man’s countenance revealed that something was troubling him. His friend waited patiently for the man to say what was on his mind.
“They don’t see you,” the man finally said, quietly and sadly. “Why don’t they see you, even when I point to where you are standing?”
“They don’t want to see me,” the friend replied softly.
The man thought about this for a few minutes in silence. “You’ve done so much for me,” the man finally said after musing. “I know you enough to know that you would do the same for anybody. But how can you help them if they refuse to see you?”
“You could help them,” the friend replied with a warm smile.
“But I’m not you!” the man exclaimed. “How could I possibly help them?”
“I can use your hands and your senses to help them,” the friend said. “You’ll be clumsy at first, but if you let me guide you, you’ll catch on. It will be like me helping them.”
The man took his friend’s suggestion, yielding to his counsel whenever he helped other travelers. His first attempts were indeed clumsy. His advice often wasn’t the best, his attempts to dress the wounds of others was a mess, and his assistance lacked any grace or elegance. However, as the days and years passed, he found increasing skill through the direction of his friend.
A curious thing began to happen. Where once these fellow travelers rejected the man’s friend, now they rejected him, refusing to believe that he could help them. The better he became at helping others, the more travelers rejected him. After a particularly harsh rejection from a traveler sorely in need of help, the man grew angry.
“What’s the use?!” the man shouted while turning to his friend. “They don’t see you, they don’t want your help, and now they reject me, even while spitting on me! Why should I care anymore about what ails them!?”
The man’s friend stopped in the middle of his stride, turning to face the man in seriousness. “Do you remember when you first met me?”
“Yes: it was a wonderful moment in my life.”
The friend shook his head. “I know the moment you are referring to, but this was only the first time you acknowledged me.” The man’s friend leaned in closer. “When was the first time you met me?”
The man opened his mouth in protest, but before he could utter a word, the memory came. In shock, he recalled his response, doing the same as the other travelers he encountered. Nor had this been the first time: memories flooded his mind of many other moments when he had come across his future friend but ignored him.
“Did I continue to care about you when you didn’t acknowledge me?”
The man hung his head in shame. “Yes, you did.”
The friend reached out his hand, gently lifting the man’s chin while looking him in the eyes. “Then do the same for these travelers.”
“Okay,” the man replied, as a tear rolled down his cheek. “I’ll do it.” The friend smiled while nodding.
“And that is why I call you my friend.”