When I was in elementary school, I read a story in one of my classes that has stuck with me ever since. I wish I could find the story again to give the actual author the proper credit. Instead, I’ll just have to recreate my own version of the story. I included it in my book Built by the Lord: Studies on the Family a couple of years ago in the chapter entitled “Enjoy the Journey.” I think the message is profound. I’ll present it here with out any comment from me.
A Magic Fish
A recently married young farmer, taking a well-earned day of rest, was out fishing. He had caught about all he wanted, but cast his line out just one last time. He felt the tug and brought in his biggest catch of the day. As he was about to toss the fish into his bucket (you’ll never believe this), it began to speak.
“Please, don’t throw me in that pile of fish. I am actually a fairy princess trapped in the body of this fish by an evil sorceress. If you let me live and cast me back into the water, I can give you a wonderful gift. Life can be miserable sometimes, but I can grant you the gift to skip those miserable parts. All you will have to do is wish yourself into the future and immediately you will be taken to a future point of life.”
The farmer thought this was amazing. He decided to chance it and tossed the fish back in the water. When the fish resurfaced, she said, “I have given you a tremendous gift. Use it wisely and remember you can only move forward; you can never move back into the past. Your body will age, but your mind will only grow the amount of time you actually experience.”
Then she sank beneath the surface and was gone. Two days later, the farmer began plowing his fields. He was hot and miserable and he decided to see if the gift really worked. He wished he could skip to the end of the day, going straight to dinner with his wife. No sooner had he made the wish than he was sitting in his house at the dinner table. It was as if his body had kept on doing the work and living his life but his mind and soul had just skipped the day.
After a few more days of work, he decided he had had enough of this and wished he could skip to the end of the harvest. Immediately he found himself at the end of the harvest, ready to sell his crops at the market. “This is not so bad,” he thought. “I wonder why that fish said I had to be so careful.”
A couple of years went by and his wife became pregnant. He was so excited. He couldn’t wait for another seven months to go by to see his first child. He wished to skip ahead to the day after the birth. The next instant he heard a baby crying in the other room and his wife asking for help.
After a couple of sleepless nights, he wished he could skip ahead to when the child was sleeping all night and potty trained. After having a few more kids, the man just could not believe how stressful it was to raise children. He finally decided just to skip the whole thing. He wished himself to a time when all the children were out of the house.
Though his mind was only a few years older than when he first received the gift, his body had aged quite a bit. He was tired, his body ached most of the time and he just didn’t want to work anymore. He wished to skip ahead to when he was old enough to let his kids take care of him.
Suddenly, there he was with his wife and his grown children. He began to listen to their conversation. They were laughing and sometimes crying. The kids were discussing their childhood memories. The farmer’s wife was chiming in. However, whenever they turned to the farmer, he only smiled. He couldn’t say anything because he did not remember any of it. He had wished it all away. His body was old and could hardly enjoy his present life, but he could not even take joy in happy memories. He had none.
He left the house and walked purposefully to the lake where he had caught the magic fish, crying all the way. Was the fish still alive? Perhaps someone else had caught the fish and not been so generous? It had been many years, how long could a fish, even a magic one, actually live? Even if it was alive, could he find it? If he could find it, would it do anything? After all, it had warned him.
He walked to the bank and waded in a few feet and began to cry out as loud as he could, “Magic fish! It’s me the farmer who set you free so many years ago. I have been very foolish and made a terrible mistake. Please, come help me!” He repeated his plea several times, but nothing happened. Finally, he just plopped down in the water, his face in his hands, sobbing. He had missed his life and there was nothing to be done about it.
A moment later the water broke and the fish appeared.
“Hello, farmer,” the fish said. “I have already given you one great gift, why should I grant you another?”
“O fairy princess, you warned me not to use your gift unwisely. But I have. I have been foolish beyond belief. My mind is young, but my body is old. I have no fond memories of my life because I wished them all away. Please, take me back to the day I caught you and let me live my life.”
“But I told you, you can only go forward, you can never go back. Sending you back to the day you caught me will end the gift I gave you. You will have to endure every trial, every tribulation, every misery and never be able to miss any of it.”
“I don’t care. I want to live my life. I want to enjoy every minute of every day. I want to see how my wife and I grow closer together. I want to see my children learn to walk and run and live. I want to experience every accomplishment. The tough times will be worth it if only to experience the joy of the good times. I have made it to the end of my life and I have accomplished so much, but I cannot enjoy any of it because I skipped it all.”
The fish disappeared beneath the surface of the water and the man cried out, “No, come back.” He sat their consumed in his grief and bowed his head into his hands once again. But then something odd happened. Suddenly, he was no longer sitting in the water. He was dry and sitting in his old boat. His skin was no longer wrinkled and his body no longer ached. He looked up and the fish resurfaced and said, “This was really my gift to you. The ability to skip the miseries of life is really no gift at all. The ability to enjoy the journey is the greatest I can give you. You have set me free, I thank you.” The fish disappeared.
The man eagerly paddled his boat to shore. Tied it to a tree and ran to his house. There he found his young wife. He rushed to her, picked her up and kissed her. She never learned what happened to her husband. But she did learn she had married a man who was able to live with the bad days because he knew how to enjoy the journey.