There was a man who believed he held the world on a string, but in truth it was the world that held him.
One day as he walked along, he began to feel fatigued and decided to rest on a bench at a nearby park.
After a few minutes, he noticed a young girl, no older than the age of 10, staring at him. He asked her if there was something he could help her with.
She continued to look at him, and asked quite solemnly, “Why are you sad?”
The man was taken by surprise and asked the girl what she meant.
“You’re sitting all by yourself! It’s a nice day; you should do something that makes you happy.”
He cracked a fake smile at the girl while getting up to leave. As she watched him, the girl spoke as much to herself as to the departing man, “Everybody should be happy,” shortly before running off to find her grandparents.
The man continued about his day, but the words would not leave him.
He went to work, smiled and laughed with his co-workers, but he began to see that neither he nor they were truly happy. They only presented this appearance so that others would not be concerned. He decided to investigate this.
The man thought of an idea: he’d think about the first time he was really happy, and he would write a journal on everything from that point on to figure out just where he went wrong.
The man found, however, that he could not recall the last time he could consider himself “happy.”
He asked his friends if they could remember when they last thought he had been happy, but they were few and none of them could say.
It was at this time a captivating thought crossed his mind.
The girl knew immediately that he wasn’t happy; she might know the secret behind finding happiness!
The man returned to the park after work hoping to find her, but as expected the girl was nowhere to be found. He waited for about an hour, but to no avail.
The man returned to the park almost every day, though the girl never reappeared.
Taking one of his casual walks along the small river in the park after waiting for the girl, (as he had now come to do) he thought about trying something new. The man remembered something he had liked to do as a kid, and went to the nearby vacant sandbox to try working on a sand castle.
When the man began his first attempt at building one of these grainy fortresses, he lacked any real talent and could not mold the sand well at all. The more he kept at it, however, the more tricks he learned. He found that by using water from a nearby drinking fountain, he could mold the sand as he pleased. He took a small amount of pleasure in overcoming the resilience of the sand, and continued to practice his new art.
As the months moved along, the man grew very fond of his new hobby. He was sure it made him look silly, but it had ripened into a passion and he adored it. He had become a master sand castle builder, and decided to put his skill to the test.
The man set aside three days where he would do nothing except work on his castle, and set up camp by it each night to ensure its protection. Thus, he began.
This new castle was of the utmost importance to him, and he took great diligence to ensure that it would be his best one ever. He found building its foundation to be quite tricky, as the recent downpour of rain made the sand difficult to work with. Each time he sat back to look over one of the walls, another would slowly crumble and slide gracefully to ground. He would not allow this to detour him, however, as his dedication to this castle was steadfast. Looking it over, he dusted his hands off the seats of his pants as he simply gritted his teeth and went back to work. He continued on and made great strides.
While he was determined to take as much time as necessary to prove this would be his finest piece of work yet, the man had now acquired a vast amount of experience and was already nearly done. He decided his hard work had merited a break, and so he headed home for a meal and a short nap. When he returned however, he found his magnificent castle had been demolished!
The man was at a complete loss! He collapsed to the ground, weeping for the lamentable ruins of his castle as he tried to make sense of its destruction and what he would do. With no answer to be found, he sat in the sand until he finally managed to drag himself to his feet and head home.
As he was leaving, an old man happened to sit next to the spot he had previously occupied on the bench.
“Might I ask what’s troubling you, son?” the old man asked. There was an eon of wisdom and kindness in his brilliantly faded eyes.
“Well, this might seem silly,” the man started, “but I’ve been waiting for a little girl to come back. She used to play here, although she hasn’t come around lately, so I started building sand castles to pass the time. I was getting pretty good, but look, my masterpiece… it’s ruined!”
The old man turned to face him inquisitively.
“What do you mean?” he asked quite earnestly.
“I mean my sand castle has been destroyed!” the man replied, dispiritedly.
“Hm… how has it been destroyed? The sand is still there, you have plenty of water.”
“But that was three days of hard work, gone! Three days of my life I’ll never get back.”
“How is it gone?” the old man pressed on, still unconvinced. “You did great work, I’m sure. It’ll make your next castle that much better.”
“My next castle? Why bother? It’ll just get destroyed.”
“Maybe. What if this one hadn’t? What would you have done? Guarded it forever?”
For the first time, the younger man felt like he began to understand what his elder was trying to tell him.
“And as for the three days of your life, if you had them back, what would you do with them?”
“Something I could’ve enjoyed, that wouldn’t have been a waste.”
The man had to really stop and think. “… probably build sand castles.”
The old man just smiled.
“I’d really like to see one of those sand castles someday, if it’s not asking too much.”
“Nah, I’d be glad to show you sometime.”
The young man himself couldn’t help but chuckle, and thanked the older man for his time as they said their farewells and he turned to leave.
Before he departed, the man realized he had forgotten to ask one last question.“Say, if you don’t mind my asking, why are you sitting outside alone, this late in the day?”
“I’m waiting on my granddaughter; she likes to build sand castles too.”
As the man turned to walk away, he saw the little girl he had been looking for all this time.
“Hey, it’s you!” the man exclaimed, excited to have finally found the girl.
“Hi. You seem happy now, I’m glad.” The girl said as she walked on passed him.
“I am. I guess I have you to thank for that, huh?”
She smiled at him, and her grandfather, as she skipped over to the sandbox to play.
The man continued to walk home to his apartment, but looking back he saw how much fun the girl was having, and that the old man was helping as well.
He couldn’t help but notice how young the old man now seemed, playing gleefully with his granddaughter in the sand box.
He thought about the promise he had made to build the old man a sand castle, and could find no reason why he couldn’t do it now, even if he didn’t have three days to finish it.
The man walked back over, and asked the pair if they’d like some help.
The both of them gladly agreed, and the three began working on a new sand castle.
As the sun began to set they continued to work well into the night, illuminated by the ambient glow of the street lamps as they slowly lit up the park.
The man felt happy, and oddly at peace.
He was here doing what he loved, with people who had quickly become good friends.
He found he finally had a starting point for his journal, though he realized he no longer had a need for it.
This is the story of a man who used to believe he held the world on a string, but in truth he had just been strung along.