The River


By: Ruth Rehtse

Excuse me is this seat taken? No, said the 40 something year old woman to the bright and vibrant young man.

“Where are you heading?” Said the brunette to Tommy.

“Oh, I have no particular destination. I took a sabbatical year to figure things out.”

The woman was perplexed at what she just heard.  “Oh, where are my manners. My name is Tommy by the way.”

“Oh, I’m Brenda. So, Tommy what brings you to Japan?” Tommy stared at her for a few seconds with a hesitant look, and after a few seconds he decided to tell her about his quest. Tommy said, “Well, I took a year off to travel around the world and take pictures of people.”

“Any particular theme?” She asked Tommy.   “Well, yes and no” said Tommy. “To be very honest I’m searching for the happiest person alive.”

“The happiest person alive!?! Huh, interesting. Does such a person exist?” She said.

Tommy smiled at her and said, “Well, I surely hope so, but so far I have found people who are mostly happy, but there is always something missing in their lives. I’m starting to wonder if that person exist.”

Brenda once again looked bewilder at the young man, and said, “So, why do you want to find a person who is happy 24/7?”

Tommy replied, “Well, I figure if I can find the happiest person alive he, or she will be able to answer my question.”

“And what is your question?” Brenda asked.  “You are going to think I’m crazy.”

“Try me.” She said.

“Well, I figured if I can find the happiest person alive they can tell me the meaning of life.”

Brenda was stunned and said, “Well, isn’t the whole point of life to just live it?”

“Perhaps.” Tommy said, “But I am still not convinced. There must be a bigger meaning to it. I refuse to believe, we are born, we grow up, we become successful, get married, have children and then you die. There must be more to the meaning of life.”

Brenda started to laugh, “Wow! Sorry I asked! Pretty deep conversation for an early morning train ride! but you know I have heard near Okinawa lives a man who is 130 years old and is considered one of the wisest men in Japan, if he is the wisest maybe he is also the happiest. OK. This is my stop. Good Luck!”

Tommy smiled at Brenda and said, “Thanks!”

So, Tommy decided to visit the small village near Okinawa. Throughout his bus ride he couldn’t stop thinking about all the things this old man would tell him. Tommy wondered if finally, he would get his question answered after almost a year and half of traveling around the world. He tried to not build his expectations too much, but he couldn’t help, but feel excited about meeting this old man.

When he arrived at the village he asked for the wise man who was 130 years old. The old lady smiled at Tommy and pointed toward the river. As Tommy walked toward the river he started to wonder what this man looked like, and what he would say.

Tommy looked around and saw a hunchback old man without shoes near a big rock resting. Tommy scanned the area once again to double-check they were the only two people by the river. He approached the old man and asked him his name. The old man clearly of Asian descent told him his name was John. This really puzzled Tommy. “John? That is a western name. How could this be?” He thought to himself.

The old man quickly answered his unspoken question, and explained his father was Japanese, but his mother was a westerner. Tommy timidly told then old man he was told he was considered one of the wisest men of Japan.

The old man laughed, and he said, “I am not sure if I am the wisest, but I have seen many sunrises and sunsets. What brings you here young man? What do you seek?”

Tommy looked at the old man with disbelief, and said, “I have been traveling for a year and a half now searching for the happiest person alive?”

The old man smiled and said, “And why do you seek the happiest person alive?”

“Well, I figured if I could find the happiest person alive he, or she could answer my question.”

“Ah! So, there is a question, so tell me young man. What is your question?”

Tommy started to wonder if coming to Okinawa had been a good idea, but nevertheless he answered the old man. “I want to know the meaning of life.”

“So, if you are searching for the meaning of life, why are you searching for the happiest person alive?” said the old man.

Tommy immediately felt inadequate to even answer the question, but he mustered up enough courage to form a sentence and said, “Well, I believe if I can find the happiest person alive, he or she would also know the meaning of life.”

The old man once again smiled and said, “If you are looking to be happy search within you to find what makes you happy, but if you are looking for the meaning of life you didn’t have to travel across the world to discover it, for this is something you can find in your own backyard.”

Tommy started to feel like a scolded child, but he traveled this far he was not going to stop now. So, Tommy asked, “My backyard? To find the meaning of life?”

“Yes,” said the old man. “Being happy and finding the meaning of life are two different things at times.”

“What?” Tommy asked.

“You see young man. You can find things that make you happy and live a long productive life. But the meaning of life is quite simple, and it can also cause great joy. Joy beyond what most people experience in their life time, but it can also cause you great sadness and sacrifice.”

Tommy started to feel anxious and said, “OK. Can you please explain?”

The old man seeing Tommy’s visible anxiousness replied, “Love. Love is the meaning to life. When we love the world, when we love nature in the purest form, we leave this world a better place for the next generation. When we love without selfishness we will take difficult decisions, but they will be the right decisions. When we act honorably and love thy neighbor as we love ourselves we leave a mark in this world. Love creates a ripple effect. When we love we leave an imprint in this world of kindness and generosity. The meaning of life is simply to love. It is the greatest force in this world. It promotes changes in every corner of the Earth.” The old man said while staring at Tommy.

“Now the question you should be asking yourself is… Do you want to be happy? Or do you want love? Because although, love can bring you great joy it can also bring you great sorrow, but at the end of the day it is greatest and most important thing life. Love will flow forever just like this river long after we are gone.”

So, the question is “Do you want to love? or do you want to be happy? because throughout life sometimes they are not the same, but the answer to your question is simply to love…”