THE MAN STOOD on the cliff, watching the cars speed past below. He thought of the world as it is, while watching the headlights zip by. The day was turning to night, with a breeze in the air. The man shivered, pulling his coat tighter. The beauty of the fall colors adorned the trees all around. He couldn’t see the fireworks, the colors, because he stood lost in thought.
The man felt troubled; troubled about the world, troubled about his life, troubled about his place in the grand scheme of things. He had so many unanswered questions, so many things left unsaid.
Unaccomplished goals haunted him day and night. These goals only haunted him when he had time to think–which, he recognized, he didn’t have a lot of time to do. He pulled out his phone to check messages, flipped through notifications, put his phone away . . . what was he thinking of again?
The man heard rustling in the woods behind him. It was not yet night, so he turned to see what was making the commotion. Now the rustling noise became more of a step, step sound. The man peered into the woods, trying to see who, or what, was approaching.
“Hey there!” a voice rang out in the dusk.
“Hello?” the man said, trying to see, as a figure emerged from the shadows of the trees.
“Hiya!” An older, distinguished-looking gentleman with white hair and a long dark coat stood in front of the man. “Whatchya doing out here?”
The man stood, regarding the newcomer. “Thinking.”
The man took a deep breath, and turned to watch the cars again. “Life.”
The old man stood, watching him. They were silent for a while. “Care to tell me about it?”
The man on the cliff took a deep breath. He put his hands on his hips, before covering his face. He dropped his hands, then turned toward the old man. “Can’t a guy wallow in peace?”
“You seem troubled. I wanted to know if you wanted to talk about it.”
“DAMMIT!!” The man lowered himself to the ground, feet hanging over the edge. The man put his hands to his eyes, and shook as sobs racked his body.
The older man slowly, carefully, settled down on the ground beside him. He put a hand on the man’s back briefly, then put his hand down and sat quietly.
The daylight disappeared. The lights on the cars below flashed past, yellow in one direction, red in the other. The whooshing of cars flying down the highway filled the air. The only other sounds were the insects with their forest symphony, and the muffled sound of crying.
The older man simply sat.
Eventually the sobbing subsided. The man looked around, seeing the older gentleman still sitting there. “What do you want?!”
The older man smiled and looked at him. “Who says I want anything?”
“Everyone wants something nowadays.” The man exhaled sharply. “Though it doesn’t seem to be money so much anymore.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean that less and less it seems like they want my money. More and more it seems like they want my mind and my attention.”
The old man laughed. “Only your mind and complete attention?! That doesn't seem to be asking for much.”
The younger man grinned, chuckled a little. “No, it used to seem like they wanted my money any way I could give it. Sales, telemarketers, restaurants, toys, gadgets, whatever. Now I get sucked into my phone, my computer, my tablet, everything. Then I find that as much as these devices should be saving my time, they are wasting my time. Digital devices make it that much harder to feel productive.”
The older man looked around at the woods behind them, gesturing at it all. “And this doesn’t help?”
The younger man laughed. “I haven’t been out here in twenty years. Don’t have the time anymore.”
“Have you considered that you simply don’t make the time?”
The man laughed. “Fine. That may be true. I still have a hard time with things.”
“I get the picture; at least a little bit. That much is for sure.” The older man sighed. “You know, you aren’t the first person having difficulty with the new world order.”
The younger man threw up his arms. “Difficulty? What the hell do you know of difficulty? You think I’m up here to hang out? Catch a minute? Ugh!” He stood up, walked back toward the woods, while the older man turned his body to better see. He put his hands on his head, flipped around, then walked over and confronted the man again. “I’ve had enough!! Enough! Nothing makes sense anymore. People have gone completely crazy–completely disconnected from reality! Everyone is running after the next greatest thing–not realizing that it’s not helping. I’d bet if someone did a study, they would find a correlation between dissatisfaction in life and the advent of smartphones! Maybe they already have!”
“Do you think that smartphones are the problem?”
The younger man stopped, looked at him, shrugged. “No . . . I mean yes . . . I mean–I don’t know. They’re definitely not part of the solution. Smartphones are not helping anything. But it is more than that. I . . . I see things that make me wonder what the hell we were thinking when we signed up for this stuff. People talk about how cool it is, how helpful it is, but they are worse and worse off all the time.”
“Smartphones. We were talking of smartphones.”
“No. I don’t think smartphones are the problem. Or at least, not the whole problem. Maybe it’s a symptom of a larger problem.”
The old man chuckled. “Smartphones might be the problem. But let’s say for a moment they’re not. What do you think is the problem? What do you think brought you up here, to, ah, figure out what comes next?”
The younger man looked at the older man. He saw the kindness in his eyes, caring, empathy. He saw the wrinkles of wisdom around his face, the smile that reached deep into his eyes. And in that moment, he made a decision.
The younger man sat on a large rock. He sighed. “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. I don’t know if I fully knew it myself. But yeah, I may have come up here because . . . because . . . I don’t know . . .
“I . . . I don’t know. Nothing makes sense anymore. The world that made sense only a few years ago, it’s different. I can’t explain it. I can’t define it. I only know that it feels different than it did, and far more overwhelming. I don’t know if I’m coming or going. I’m on social media because it’s supposed to be helpful, but half the time I go online and wonder what the hell I just did with my time. It always seems like there is one more thing to do, one more article to read. And for what?! It doesn’t help me . . . at all.
“I don’t know what to do anymore. My life feels out of control, I don’t feel like I know what to focus on. I used to have clarity, and then the days, the years went by and I feel like I’ve lost my clarity, lost my focus.
“All I truly understand is that I am overwhelmed. I feel like I’m at the end of my rope. Ahh!” The younger man walked back to the edge of the cliff, breathed out loudly. “Help! There! I said it! Help.” He sat down again, feet over the cliff, back next to the older man. “I . . . I don’t know what to do . . . I don’t know how to bring my life back to some level of normalcy.”
“Would you believe me if I told you I’ve been through the exact same thing?” The older man stood with some difficulty. He watched the cars, and the younger man, while standing on the edge.
The younger man turned to look up. “How the hell is that possible!? The smartphone? The social media?”
The older man chuckled and raised his hands. “Okay, not ‘exactly’ exactly. But really, really close. I’ve been through feelings like this: feelings of inadequacy, feeling overwhelmed, not knowing the steps to take to move forward. I’ve also contemplated what it’s all for in similar, ah, precarious situations.” The old man gestured to the cliff and the cars racing by below.
“And!? What did you do?!”
The old man smiled. “I jumped.”
“You jumped?” The younger man stood back up, facing the old man.
“Yes. I jumped. I took the biggest leap of faith of my life, and started to trust in the process a little more.”
“What do you mean? What process?”
“It’s a bit hard to explain all at once, or even in one sitting. I actually have people who explain it far better than I can; I call them keyholders. If you can wait a few days or so, and talk to everyone, you’ll see it will all be worth it.”
The younger man stood still, watching him. They stood, silently, for a few minutes.
“Worth it? Says who?”
“Every person I’ve helped in the past. Look, you have nothing to lose by listening to me, and everything to gain. And don’t worry, this cliff isn’t going anywhere. All that I ask is that you follow through, that you hear everything they have to say.”
“Why should I trust you at all?”
“Because deep in your heart you know you want to. I was right here, in the same type of mood, many years ago. And someone came up the trail behind me, just like I did now to you. He taught me this secret, the 5 Keys to Greatness. Now I want to share it with you.”
“What’s so good about it?”
“Well. To start with, I know many people who went from the brink of despair to the edge of greatness. And now, as they unlock their own individual greatness, they are helping others.”
“Helping others? How?”
“Tell you what. Why don’t we start off by heading down together, I’ll tell you a bit more about it. Tomorrow, you can visit one of my friends, hear her perspective on it. She’ll even send you to the rest of the keyholders, so you can learn each key. You don’t need to take my word for it.”
The younger man thought about it. “What do you want from me?”
“Only a little time. Time you will regain in great abundance as you put this framework into practice. If you find it valuable, you can share it with others too. Can you do that?”
The younger man thought for a while. He thought of everything going wrong in his life. He thought of everything going wrong around the world. He said, “And if I don’t find it valuable?”
“Continue your life as you see fit. You’re on your own at that point. But I think you’ll find it worthwhile.”
“Okay. Fair enough. What’s your name, anyway?”
The older man smiled. “My name isn’t that important. But you can call me Pinch.”
The two walked down together, stumbling through the darkness while making their way back to the parking lot. On the way down, the older man told David to write down what he thought were the five most fundamental elements to a good life. Once finished, David would go visit a bartender named Regina.