Once there was a boy who lived in a big house on a wooded hill. He was very much like other boys. He loved dogs and horses, sports cars and music. He played football and admired pretty girls. Other than having to pick up after himself, which he hated, he had a nice life.
One day the boy said to God: "I've been thinking a lot about my life, and I know what I want when I become a man."
"What?" asked God.
"I want to live in a two-story house with a front porch and a barn and lots of horses and two Saint Bernard dogs and a big garden in the back yard. I want to marry a woman who is tall and very beautiful and kind and has long, black hair and blue eyes, who plays the guitar and sings folk songs in a clear, high voice.
"I want to have three big, strong sons who will play football with me in our back yard; and when they grow up, one will be a scientist and one a senator and the youngest will quarterback for the 49 ers.
"As for me, I want to be an adventurer who sails vast oceans and climbs tall mountains and rescues people. And I want to be wealthy so I can drive a red Ferrari and so I will never have to pick up after myself again."
"That sounds like a nice dream," said God.
"Thank you," said the boy.
"I want you to be happy," said God.
"Thank you again," said the boy.
One day, while playing football, the boy fell and hurt his knee. After that, his knee was always a little painful. He couldn't climb tall mountains or even tall trees, much less sail vast oceans. So he went to college and studied marketing and started a business selling medical supplies.
He married a girl who was very beautiful and very kind and who had long, black hair. But she was short, not tall, and had brown eyes, not blue, and she couldn't play the guitar or even the accordion, and she couldn't sing at all. She prepared wonderful meals seasoned with rare Chinese spices, however, and she painted magnificent pictures of birds that looked so real it seemed they could fly off the canvas.
He and his wife lived near the top of a tall building in a warm, comfortable apartment with a balcony that looked out over the twinkling city lights and blue ocean. He didn't have room for two Saint Bernard dogs, but he did have a fat, fluffy, gray cat that nestled on his lap and purred.
He had three daughters, all of them very beautiful. The youngest, who couldn't walk and so was in a wheelchair, was the loveliest of all. She could play the guitar and sing folk songs in a low, mysterious voice.
All three daughters were intelligent and all three loved their father very much. They brought him tea and cookies, and they rubbed his neck when he was tired, and they found the remote control for him when it got lost somewhere in the Sunday paper.
They didn't play football with their father in the back yard—there was no back yard. But sometimes they went to the park and tossed a Frisbee.
He didn't have a stable of horses, but sometimes he took his family for a ride through the park in an old-fashioned, horse-drawn carriage.
He made enough money to live comfortably, but he didn't drive a red Ferrari. In fact, he never even rode in one. Instead, he rode in a taxicab or the subway. And sometimes he had to pick things up and put them away—even things that didn't belong to him.
Then one morning the boy awoke and realized that he was now a man. And he remembered his dream and became very sad.
"I am very sad," he said to his best friend.
"Why?" asked his best friend.
"Because I once dreamed of marrying a tall woman with black hair and blue eyes who would play the guitar and sing in a high, clear voice. My wife cannot play the guitar or sing, and she has brown eyes, and she's not tall."
"Your wife is very beautiful and very kind," said his best friend. "And she paints splendid pictures and fixes delectable Chinese food."
But the man wasn't listening. And his best friend worried about him.
"I am very sad," the man said to his wife.
"Why?" asked his wife.
"Because I once dreamed of living in a two-story house with a porch, and of having a barn and horses and two Saint Bernard dogs and a back yard with a garden. Instead, I live on the 47th floor in an apartment with a 20square-foot patio that has some potted geraniums on it."
"Our apartment is warm and comfortable, and we can see the ocean from our living-room couch," replied his wife. "It's filled with love and laughter and paintings of birds and a fluffy, gray cat—not to mention our three children."
But the man wasn't listening. And his wife felt like she failed her husband. She began to feel sad, too, and lost interest in her paints and rare spices.
"I am very sad," the man said to his therapist.
"Why?" asked the therapist.
"Because I once dreamed that when I grew up I would be a great adventurer, rescuing people at the tops of high mountains or far out on the ocean. Instead, I'm a bald businessman with a potbelly and a bad knee."
"The medical supplies you sell have saved many lives," said the therapist.
But the man wasn't listening. So his therapist said something incomprehensible about superegos and self-differentiation, and charged him $110 and sent him home.
"I am very sad," the man said to his minister.
"Why?" asked the minister.
"Because I once dreamed of having three strong sons who would play football with me in the back yard; I dreamed that one of them would grow up to be a scientist, another, a politician; and the youngest, the quarterback for the 49ers."
"You have three very beautiful, intelligent daughters," said the minister. "They love you very much, and have all done well in the things they've chosen. One of them is a nurse, another an artist, and the youngest teaches music to children."
But the man wasn't listening. After he left, his minister prayed for him.
"I am very sad," the man said to his accountant.
"Why?" asked his accountant.
"Because I once dreamed of being wealthy and driving a red Ferrari and never having to pick up after myself again. Instead, I ride in a Chevrolet taxicab; and sometimes when I'm dog-tired after working all day, I still have to clean up around my house."
"You make enough money to live in a nice apartment," said his accountant. "You eat out frequently at good restaurants, and your investment portfolio doesn't look at all bad."
But the man wasn't listening. And his accountant charged him $100 for the time he's spent listening to him.
The man was sad. And because he was sad, other people became sad with him.
The man was so sad that one day he became very sick. He went to the hospital where he lay in a white room on white sheets surrounded by nurses dressed in white, with tubes and wires leading from his body to beeping, blinking machines.
He was terribly, tragically sad. And his family and friends gathered around his bed, and they were all deeply sad, too.
Then one night, when everything was dark and quiet, the man said to God, "Remember when I was a boy and I told you all the things I wanted when I grew up?"
"Sure," said God. "It was a lovely dream."
"Why didn't you give me the things I dreamed of?" asked the man.
"I could have," said God. "But I wanted to surprise you with some things you didn't dream of. I suppose you've noticed what I've given you: a kind, beautiful wife; a good business; a nice place to live; three lovely daughters—one of the best packages I've ever put together—"
"Yes, yes," interrupted the man. "But I thought You were going to give me what I really wanted."
"And I thought you were going to give Me what I really wanted," said God.
"What did You want?" asked the man, surprised—for it had never occurred to him that God was in want of anything.
"I wanted to make you happy with the things I've given you," said God.
Then God went home, too, because He knew the man needed some time alone. And the man lay in the dark all night, just thinking. He lay there while the machines at his bedside blinked and beeped. He thought and thought, and toward morning he decided to dream a new dream. It was a dream he wished he'd chosen for himself many years before. He decided to dream that what he most wanted in life were the very things he already had.
And the man got well and went home and lived happily on the 47th floor and enjoyed the purring of his fluffy, gray cat, and his children's and grandchildren's beautiful voices, and his wife's deep brown eyes and delicately spiced cuisine, and the glorious pictures of birds. And at night he had tea and cookies as he gazed at the ocean and watched the city lights twinkling on, one by one.