Once upon a time, there was a man named O’Malley who sold pots and pans to villagers in the Irish countryside.
One cloudy, rain-promising afternoon, he topped a hill and came face to face with a huge man who stood in the middle of the road, a large sack thrown over his shoulder. O’Malley stopped his cart and sized up the man, and the situation.
“Excuse me,” said O’Malley with a sideways motion of his head, encouraging the Big Guy to step aside. “Excuse me”, came the reply from the Big Guy, in almost the same impatient tone. O’Malley couldn’t move his cart to either side of the narrow road, and he shouldn’t and by God he wouldn’t. He was never in a good mood, and this confrontation was the last thing he needed.
“What do you want?” barked O’Malley to the Big Guy. “What do you want?” growled the Big Guy right back. “I want money!” shouted O’Malley, being blunt, honest, candid, and straightforward. For it was true, that was what O’Malley wanted and had always wanted. He had scraped enough together to have his first inventory of pots and pans made by a blacksmith, and then had taken them to neighboring villages and sold them. He’d made a profit, but what with staying in stables and inns and even under the stars on some rough nights, and eating as he could in those very same places, by the time he got back to the blacksmith, he’d barely enough to buy more pots and pans. So, it was a sore spot with O’Malley, and his reply betrayed none of his bitterness.
“I want money!” boomed the Big Guy right back even louder. Uh oh. It was one of those rare times that O’Malley thought of something else besides money. He thought of his own life…and his own very same death, and how it just might be showing itself to himself right then and there. So he did what so many tough and manly men do when confronted with imminent danger: he pulled the few gold coins out of his pocket, threw them willy-nilly into the air for the giant to have or not, and turned tail and ran, little squeaks of screams popping out of his mouth with every hot-footed step, until he was far away and too out of breath to run another step.
But the Big Guy was nowhere to be seen, and, eventually, O’Malley mustered up the courage to return to the scene of the assault, as he now termed it in his mind. There, on the road, stood his cart with all his pots and pans, untouched. He scoured the ground quickly, but found none of the money he’d thrown into the air. But he was alive, and a pinch of gratitude made its way into his brain. He sighed, and made his way onto the next village.
When he arrived, he paused in the village square. It was dark, and few people were out. He was penniless, and the market was not until morning. He was hungry, and he had no place to stay. He resolved to let his fatigue overtake his hunger, and find the corner of building. There, he would park his cart, and sleep underneath it until the next day.
“O’Malley, how are you?” came a voice from the shadows. O’Malley spun, still spooked by his encounter with the Big Guy, and say the innkeeper, who’d often purchased pots and pans for his tavern and his farmhouse. “Oh, hi,” replied O’Malley, never having bothered to learn the man’s name. “Fine, fine, just a little late getting into town. How are you?”
“Very well,” replied the innkeeper. “A flush of good fortune, you might say. But where are you staying for the night? I hope not in the stables like last time. Not proper for a businessman of your standing.”
“Oh, no, just…well, the thing is…I was accosted by an armed outlaw on my way here, and I was taken for all the money I had. Just barely got away with my skin and pots and pans, so, I’ll probably be back at the stables, just this once, but thank you for asking.”
“Don’t be silly,” replied the innkeeper. “Stay at my place. We’ve got a vacant room, and my kids found a few coins on the road this afternoon. So you won’t owe me a thing.” O’Malley was about to fly off the proverbial handle and scream. Those were his coins, he was certain, and the evil outlaw who had scared him half to death hadn’t even bothered to take his money! Oh, the injustice and disrespect of it all.
But the innkeeper had turned and started walking toward his inn, and O’Malley, preferring that to the cobblestones and cold, followed gratefully.
When they entered the warm and inviting inn, the aroma of a stew filled the air and O’Malley’s nostrils. Hunger kicked in for the innkeeper, his wife, O’Malley, and a local farmer. The farmer explained that he came to the village, too, for the weekly market, and bartered a portion of his vegetables to the innkeeper and his wife in exchange for a place to stay for the night.
O’Malley nodded, then slowly made note of this mutual, logical generosity that found the farmer housed and the innkeeper fed. A warm spring bubbled up in O’Malley’s chest, and he hopped up from the table, stepped outside, and pulled a pot and a pan from his cart. He returned to the table and awkwardly and wordlessly offered one to the farmer and one to the innkeeper’s wife.
“Oh, thank you,” blurted out the wife and the farmer at the same time. O’Malley nodded, embarrassed but honored, and then went back to slurping his vegetable soup.
The next day, the village market hummed with commerce and camaraderie. The story of O’Malley’s misfortune on the road and generosity the previous evening made quick rounds, and the villagers made it a point to buy a pot they might not need and a pan they’d later give to a neighbor, just to help O’Malley out. It was, he calculated, a very profitable day, and he felt a warmth at the smiles and kind words he received from the villagers.
It was very different than when he’d just conducted ‘business as usual’. And as he was pushing his cart to the next village, he was about to realize something profound and important–but then The Big Guy again appeared on the road in front of him.
The Big Guy was, once again, carrying a Big Sack on his shoulder. O’Malley, emboldened by his profitable day and newfound popularity among the villagers, stopped and parked his cart. Then stepped forward to the Big Guy.
“Get out of my way,” snarled O’Malley. “Get out of my way!” thundered the Big Guy, his voice vibrating through O’Malley’s ribcage. “What do you want?” screamed O’Malley once again. “What do you want?” boomed the Big Guy in return, his rage almost knocking O’Malley back on his heels.
“I want money!” cried O’Malley. “I want money!” bellowed the Big Guy, more menacing than every before. O’Malley felt the force of this demon’s will and once again, fear overtook him. He threw out the leather purse of profits he’d made that same day, and again, ran away until he could run no more.
He found himself, once again, dejected and downcast. What’s more, he was too far away from where he’d abandoned his cart, with all his pots and pans, to return to it before the cold and damp night took its hard hold. In the distance, he recognized the twinkling lights of his village.
He had no money. He had no inventory of pots and pans. He had no cart. As he stumbled into town, he realized–or thought he realized–that he had nothing. But, he would soon learn, he was so very wrong.
A tink, tink, tink of metal hitting metal sent its dull, high pitched tone into the night air, and O’Malley, with nothing else to lose or do, stumbled toward it. In the dim light of the blacksmith’s shop, he found the metal worker steadily bending a tool with hammer, anvil, fire, and force.
“Good evening,” said O’Malley. The blacksmith looked up from his work and said softly, “Goodness, man, what happened to you?” O’Malley was equally as candid. “I lost everything. Pots, pans, cart, money.”
The blacksmith shrugged, shook his head, and O’Malley was certain that his predicament had fallen upon deaf, uncaring ears. He turned to go back into the night, into whatever lay waiting for him there, when the blacksmith’s voice again murmured, barely audible above the crickets chirping in the dark.
“You’re good for it,” came the blacksmith’s reply. “I’m what?” “You’re good for it. You’ve been paying me fair and straight for years now, never a quibble and never a quarrel. I’ve got pots and pans there waiting…” the blacksmith sent the hammer pointing to the wall, where shining new pots and pans hung. “…knowing you’d have sold enough to need new inventory. Unused cart’s in the back, maybe a little big for ya, but it’ll do for you to make your rounds. Get your business going again. Pay me back when you can.”
O’Malley looked at the blacksmith, who went back to striking…tink, tink, tink. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t have to say nothing. I’ve said it, and what I’ve said is that you’re good for it.” And that was that.
The following morning found an excited and grateful O’Malley shaking the blacksmith’s hand enthusiastically. The cart was loaded and O’Malley was off to the next village. There, he greeted customers with a smile and kind word. He sold his pots and pans for a little less here and there to older customers and young brides. He bought vegetables from the local farmers. He learned people’s names.
He paid back the cost of the pots and pans and cart to the blacksmith with remarkable speed, but he held on to his gratitude. To the innkeeper and the blacksmith, and to all his customers who did business with him and wished him well.
And soon, he was off to another village, on another day, and as he topped another hill, low and behold, there, for a third time, was The Big Guy, with the big sack thrown over his shoulder.
O’Malley slowed his cart, and set it to one side. He then slowly approached The Big Guy. He squinted, and the Big Guy squinted. He smiled, and the Big Guy smiled. Then O’Malley, in the face of the biggest danger he’d ever faced, laughed. And the Big Guy laughed right back.
“What do you want?” asked O’Malley, this time with a calm kindness in his voice.
“What do you want?” replied the Big Guy, with equal gentleness.
“I want money,” answered O’Malley evenly.
“I want money,” echoed the Big Guy.
“Well, then…” smiled O’Malley, pulling out his leather purse. “It’s all yours.”
“Well, then,” said the Big Guy, lowering the huge sack from his back and dropping it down with a poof of dirt, right at O’Malley’s feet. “It’s all yours.”
O’Malley looked down as the flap of the sack fell open, and his breath whooshed into his lungs. For there, within the large sack, laid pounds of gold coins, precious stones, and the glittering wealth that O’Malley had so long lusted for.
“Thank you,” said O’Malley with a moist eye.
“Thank you,” replied the Big Guy.
And with that, O’Malley flipped his leather purse of coins back into this pocket. And the Big Guy hefted his sack full of gold and diamonds and emeralds and rubies back onto his shoulder.
As they parted, O’Malley realized that all the wealth in the world could be his for the asking, but was, in the end, never really his. In realizing this, he became truly, extremely, and forever wealthy.