“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Three Red Marbles story is one I first heard many years ago. A friend recently shared another version of it with me. I’ve taken the liberty of shortening it a tad but hope it still penetrates into your heart as deeply as it does mine.
I was at the corner grocery store buying some early potatoes. I noticed a small boy, ragged but clean, hungrily surveying a basket of freshly picked green peas.
I couldn't help overhearing the conversation between Mr. Miller (the grocery store owner) and that small boy next to me.
"Hello Jimmy, how are you today?"
"H'lo, Mr. Miller. Fine, thank ya."
"How's your Ma, Jimmy?"
"Doin’ better Sir. Gittin' stronger alla' time."
"Good. Anything I can help you with?"
"No, Sir. Jus' admirin' them peas."
"Would you like to take some home?" asked Mr. Miller.
"No, Sir. Got nuthin' to pay for 'em with."
"Well, what have you to trade me for some of those peas?"
"All I got's my prize marble here."
"Is that right? Let me see it" said Miller.
"Here 'tis. She's a dandy."
"I can see that. Hmmmmm, only thing is this one is blue and I sort of go for red. Do you have a red one like this at home?" the store owner asked.
"Not zackley but almost . . .";
"Tell you what. Take this sack of peas home with you and next trip this way let me look at that red marble", Mr. Miller told the boy.
"Sure will. Thanks Mr. Miller."
I moved to the check-out counter where Mrs. Miller, who had noticed me absorbing the dialogue between Jimmy and her husband, proudly said, "There are two other boys like Jimmy in our community, all three are in very poor circumstances. Tom just loves to bargain with them for peas, apples, tomatoes, or whatever. When they come back with their red marbles, and they always do, he decides he doesn't like red after all and he sends them home with a bag of produce for a green marble or an orange one, when they come on their next trip to the store."
I left the store smiling to myself, impressed with Tom Miller’s compassion. A short time later I moved to Colorado but as the years passed I never forgot the story of this man, the boys, and their bartering for marbles.
Last summer I returned to that Idaho community for a family reunion and learned that Mr. Miller had died. Several members of my family were going to the visitation. So I went along to pay my respects to this fine man. Upon arrival at the mortuary we fell into line to greet Mrs. Miller and offer whatever words of comfort we could.
Ahead of us in line I noticed three young men. One was in an army uniform and the other two wore nice haircuts, dark suits and white shirts . . . all very professional looking. They approached Mrs. Miller, who was standing by her husband's casket. Each of the young men hugged her, kissed her on the cheek, spoke briefly with her and moved next to the open casket.
I noticed that one by one, each young man stopped, briefly placed his own warm hand over the cold pale hand in the casket, then moved on to leave the mortuary, wiping his eyes.
As Mrs. Miller greeted my relatives and then me, I reminded her of that story from those many years ago and what she had told me about her husband's bartering for marbles. With her eyes glistening, she led me to the casket. "Those three young men who just left were the boys I told you about. They just told me how they appreciated the things Tom "traded" them. Now, at last, when Tom could not change his mind about color or size . . . they came to pay their debt."
"We've never had a great deal of the wealth of this world," she confided, "but right now, Tom would consider himself the richest man in Idaho." With loving gentleness she lifted his lifeless fingers. Resting underneath were three shiny red marbles.
"Our days are numbered. One of the primary goals in our lives should be to prepare for our last day. The legacy we leave is not just in our possessions, but in the quality of our lives. What preparations should we be making now? The greatest waste in all of our earth, which cannot be recycled or reclaimed, is our waste of the time that God has given us each day.”—Billy Graham