Russell looked out across the land before him and was dismayed at what he saw. There was nothing but miles and miles of barren desert in every direction he looked. He glanced up at the sky and covered his eyes as he stared at dusty brown, empty skies in the midst of which hung a scorching hot sun that burned his skin and made the air around him ripple with the heat that was rising off the sand at his feet. He first took off one shoe and emptied the sand out of it, and then did the same with the other. But before he could put his shoes on again his nose was assaulted by the most reprehensible odor he'd ever smelled. He wondered if it was the shoes that stank, his feet, or both, and if both, which one was worse. Given how his shoes were falling apart, he suspected both. He wiped an ever thickening river of sweat from his forehead, and then began walking again. But he had no more than taken a handful of steps before his shoes were once again filled to overflowing with hot, blistering sand.
He grunted in frustration and considered emptying them again. But it would be a pointless effort given the multitude of holes in his shoes. Keeping them sand free would be like trying to hold water in a colander. That thought in turn instantly added to his misery as he was reminded of the incredible thirst that was raging in his throat. It appeared as though he would never find any relief from his misery, or this endless, blazing desert. He again paused briefly to ponder his situation when another traveler, one of hundreds that plodded through this endless desert with him, collided with him and nearly knocked him off his feet.
"Hey, buddy! Watch where you're going!" he barked.
"Get a life, loser!" the other man retorted, "you're blocking the road."
"Can't you see me standing here!?" protested Russel.
"Eh, why don't you go jump in a lake, loser. That is, if you can find one!" replied the man mockingly. "And while you're at it, let me know how that delicious, cool water feels. Inquiring minds want to know!"
Russel's anger fumed. He considered saying something, but simply bit his tongue. Not because he felt it better to remain silent, but rather due to the large, dusty brown projectile that suddenly interfaced with the other man's head. He raised an eyebrow slightly as the man dropped to his knees holding his head and swearing.
"Shut your pie hole, moron! It's bad enough we're suffering as it is, and then you have to go off and make it worse!" shouted another man nearby.
Like a match to a pool of gasoline the first man erupted out of the sand, a stream of bright red blood drooling down his face, and punched the second man sending him stumbling backwards. It wasn't long before a small crowd gathered as others looked on in both awe and disdain as the two men battled each other viciously. Russell frowned slightly, shook his head and kept walking. He was already miserable enough as it was. He didn't need to add cuts and bruises to his list of agonies. So he once again began plodding forward through the burning desert hoping beyond hope for some sign of relief, an oasis, or anything that would relief his suffering.
He continued to plod onward for several more hours, the sun overhead beating down on him mercilessly and further burning his already scorched skin. He vainly licked his dry parched lips as he quietly longed for a simple drink of water. But there was none to be found. In fact, he hadn't seen any the entire time he'd been on this miserable march of agony. He scratched at his arm, and then winced in pain as some of his blistered, sunburned skin pealed away to reveal raw, tortured skin below it that was seared and ravaged by the relentless heat of the sun. He cursed himself for doing that as it made his skin ache all the more.
One hour melted into two and then four and then eight or more as the sun seemed to never set, or lower itself in the sky. It remained locked at high noon right above his head, never giving him a moment of relief. Despite this he slowly made his way down a long, sloping hill into a deep valley where he searched vainly for any form of shade where he could hide. He then continued on, eventually crested another hill not far ahead expecting to find more of the same on the other side. But what he found instead puzzled him. Not far ahead of him sat a group of about twenty people laughing, frolicking and playing in the sand as though it were a party.
He furrowed his brow slightly. Even stranger, their cloths appeared to be in pristine condition, unlike the tattered, weathered rags he wore. And their faces? How could he describe their faces, for they were like nothing he'd ever seen. They were flush and healthy, and their skin was smooth and clean, with no signs of dirt or damage, or even the torturings of the sun. Their lips even appeared wet as though with a morning dew. Russell marveled at this. Even stranger to him was how several of them acted as though they were holding large cups and drinking deeply of a cool, delicious liquid contained within them. Russell squinted slightly as he studied their hands. They were clearly empty, and yet he swore that they looked full. This left him greatly puzzled.
"They've all lost their minds," he thought.
Or was it really him who'd lost his mind? In this deep desert, either was a possibility.
"Hey there, friend! Come on over and join us!" shouted one of the men in the group, a tall, strapping man named Teddy.
"Who? Me? Why would I want to join you in your madness?" replied Russell.
Teddy laughed boisterously.
"Madness? No, my dear friend. We are enjoying the delicious, fruitful bounty that fills this green, luscious, majestic land! So come, eat and drink with us and enjoy the wonder!" he replied.
Russell looked at the sand all around him, and then snorted.
"You're crazy! There's nothing here but sand, heat, and suffering!" he snapped.
Teddy looked at him in confusion.
"What are you talking about? Can you not see the green grass at your feet, or smell the pleasant flowers of whose perfume fills the air? Can you not hear the trees blowing gently in the soft, afternoon breeze, or the merry song of many a bird as he sings from the branches above?" he asked.
Russell scowled slightly as a hot, searing wind whipped up a small cloud of sand and threw it in his face. Teddy stared in confusion at him as Russell seemed to react to something that he couldn't see. He looked over at his friends who were laughing and dancing, and then retrieved a fresh, cool cup of water that sat on a nearby table. He studied Russell for a moment as he stood in the midst of tall, cool, green grass and wondered what he was seeing. Then he remembered. He had been in Russell's shoes at one time and quickly remembered the scorching desert that he too had once wandered hopelessly through. A smile of pity grew across his face.
"Tell me, dear friend, what do you see? Do you find yourself standing in a barren wasteland of heat, sun and sand?" he asked.
Russell laughed rudely.
"Of course I do! It's the same place you are!" he barked.
"Oh, but I'm not! Where I stand, there are trees everywhere, and green grass all around my feet. I see beautiful blue skies filled with soft, fluffy clouds. Birds sing melodiously in the trees as butterflies dance playfully in the gently swaying reeds," exclaimed Teddy jubilantly.
Russell cocked an eyebrow in consternation.
"No, I am very much in charge of my faculties."
"How can you be when you talk about things that don't exist? Does your delusion give you comfort in this land of suffering?" growled Russell.
Teddy sighed slightly.
"My dear friend, at one time some many years ago I too was once like you, lost in a desert of suffering, with no hope of escape or respite from my sorrows. But another found me one day, much as I have found you, and told me of this fabulous place. To partake of it, he invited me to merely believe, and all of this could be mine. I so longed for it to be true that I closed my eyes and believed his words. When I opened them again, I found myself here. As if by magic, my rags had been exchanged for fine clothing, and my seared skin for this which is supple and whole. Immediately my thirst was gone and my pain quenched. Since then I have never again felt the suffering of the desert. Every day I spend in this lush paradise eating, drinking and dancing for joy. I now share my wonderful discovery with all who come by, and I tell them of the wonderful Eden they can enjoy if they only believe as I did! You only need believe, and this can all be yours as well!"
Russell snorted in disdain, and then motioned to Teddy dismissively.
"You're nuts. I'm leaving," he growled.
Teddy watched with dismay as Russell plodded through the cool, green grass around him and off into the distance, forever lost in his world of misery and suffering, unwilling to be saved from the misery he was now forced to endure. Teddy sighed heavily.
Another one of the men neraby walked over to him, and asked, "Did he refuse your offer?"
"He thought I was mad," he sighed.
The man smiled and patted him on the shoulder.
"In time he may meet others who will finally convince him that what we have can be his as well. But until then, have courage."
Teddy nodded, and then took a sip of cold juice from the glass in his hand. As he did this another man, one who had been standing quietly nearby and had overheard the entire conversation, walked over to him, his tattered, wind whipped cloths dangling loosely around his body.
"Excuse me, sir, I couldn't help but overhear what you said to the other man just a moment ago. Is what you told him true?" he asked.
Teddy nodded and smiled.
"All you need to do is believe, and this can all be yours," he said kindly.
The man nodded, closed his eyes, and said with conviction, "I believe. I believe! I believe!!"
Suddenly the air around him grew cool, and the scorching, stale wind that had tormented his face for so many years suddenly became moist and sweet, filled with the delicious fragrance of fruits, flowers, and trees. He slowly cracked one eye to see what had happened, and then opened them both wide in amazement when he saw the changed landscape around him. Where once a desert had been, there was now trees and grass as far as the eye could see! The sand had completely vanished and been replaced with a bounty of fresh, green, colorful life of every shape and color!
"Pretty cool, isn't it?" said Teddy with a smile.
"This is...this is real!?" said the man in amazement.
Teddy handed him a cool glass of juice, which the man immediately guzzled down. He lowered the glass, took a great, deep sigh of relief, and savored its sweet, delicious flavor. It was at this moment that he realized that his glass was full again. Confused, he drank out of it until the glass was again empty. But as soon as he took it away from his lips, it became full once more. He looked up at Teddy in amazed, awestruck wonder. Teddy laughed.
"Yes, the drinks are boundless, and the cakes without limits!"
A child like sparkle filled the man's eyes.
"Can you show me more?" he asked excitedly.
Teddy gestured to the world around him, and said, "I would be honored to show you the wonders of this place!"
As Teddy and the man wandered away to explore the land around them, his friend stood off to the side and smiled proudly.
"Way to go, little bro," he said.
But as he was standing there, a man in a tiny canoe appeared in the grass behind him, and then paddled to a stop next to him. Teddy's friend looked down at the man in the boat, and smiled kindly.
"Well, hello there, friend. Welcome to our wonderful land of plenty!" he exclaimed.
The man looked at him with a puzzled expression.
"How are you able to walk on water like that?" he asked.
"But I'm not," said Teddy's friend with a smile.
"Then how are you able to stand there like that!?"
Teddy's friend laughed, and said, "I'm not standing on water, but rather my feet rest upon a tapestry of fresh, green grass that covers dark, rich earth of which is fed by the springs of the sky and fountains of the ground."
"All I see is an endless flat expanse of water for miles in every direction. There is nothing to eat, nothing to drink, and nothing to see. And yet you say that you stand on grass, and even appear to hold a cup, though I see nothing. How is this possible?"
Teddy's friend smiled kindly, and said, "Would you like me to show you how to see the vast wonders that I do?"
The man nodded.
"Oh yes, sir. I so dearly want to see."