(A Persian Legend)
Once upon a time, the three princes of Serendip told their father that they wished to travel. They sought wisdom in the world, but they also wished to travel like ordinary men.
“We want to see the world as it is,” they told the king, “without all of our privileges.”
They set off astride three old horses, taking only a sack of clothing, a pouch of water and a basket of bread. On their travels they encountered many troubles, but they always found their way back to the road.
One day, they heard the sound of roaring water, and wondered if that was the ocean. They headed toward the sound and soon came to a wild river overflowing its banks. Standing there was a man dressed in rich, flowing silks, and he was raising his hands to the heavens, cursing and weeping at the top of his lungs.
The princes called out to the man. “What happened, sir? Can we help you?”
The man turned and the princes saw that his face was streaked with tears. He was so full of sorrow that they felt their own hearts break. They almost wept as he wailed, “It is a disaster! I am ruined. I am cursed!”
The brothers dismounted and came closer. “What happened?” the eldest asked.
“We may be able to help,” said the second prince.
“We will do all we can,” said the youngest.
“No one can help me!” the man cried as he cast his gaze upon the river. He pointed at the whitecaps on the water and said, “There lies my fortune. I am a merchant, and I have traveled all over the world collecting treasures. I built my palace on the riverbank and planned to live in peace, but the river has destroyed all that! Once upon a time, I loved this river, but it has turned into my enemy.”
The eldest prince smiled. “Sir, this might be a blessing.”
The merchant looked at the prince as if he were a madman and asked, “What can you mean? I’ve lost everything I owned!”
The second prince smiled and said, “We have been learning to seek the good in misfortune, sir. Often if you can do that, you will find even greater fortune.”
“Yes,” said the youngest. “Trust us, we are certain your good fortune will exceed your wildest dreams if you pay close attention.”
And with that they rode off again.
They had traveled for many years when one day, as they were heading back toward home, they happened past the same river. The eldest prince said, “Isn’t this the place where we met the sad merchant and the raging river?”
“It is,” said the second prince, and the youngest agreed. Just at that moment a man ran up to them and called, “Sirs, please come to my master’s home. He wishes to offer you a place to rest and take refreshment. He looks after everyone who passes by.”
The princes agreed and followed the man to a palace atop a high cliff overlooking the river. There at the palace door was the very man they had met so many years before. This time his smile was radiant and his eyes were as bright as the stars.
“Come in, fellows!” he said as he immediately recognized the three princes. “I have prepared a dinner for you, and I have a story to tell you.”
He showed them to their quarters with lovely beds and baths. After they had washed, he invited them to sit with him over a glorious meal, and there he told the tale.
“I have you to thank for this good fortune,” he explained to the princes.
The day they had left the riverbank, the merchant thought about all they had said. After he had stopped wailing, he began to think about how much he had always loved the river. He remembered swimming and fishing and whispering his secrets to the water when he was just a boy. Back then, the river had been his best friend. When the river spoke to him, he always listened.
But as he grew older, he forgot how to quiet his mind and heart. He forgot to ask the river what it needed and wanted. He forgot to listen to what the river had to say.
So when the princes were gone, he sat down and he began to listen. After some time, he began to hear the river speaking again.
“Lift up your eyes and you will see,” the river said.
The man looked up, and there it was: This cliff with the beautiful view. He knew that was where he would build his home.
He and his workers climbed to the top of the cliff to prepare the ground. But as they were digging, they came across a field of gems — rubies, amethysts, diamonds and sapphires all glittering under the sun.
The merchant nodded as he remembered. “The river brought me even greater wealth,” he told the brothers. “Just as you promised, I found even greater fortune.”
“Ever since that day, I invite everyone who travels through this kingdom to stay in my home. I offer food and clothing. I help everyone feel renewed and refreshed, and everyone brings a treasure. Some people bring objects. But most of all, people bring wisdom and company and stories, the most precious treasures of all.”
The brothers of Serendip nodded. They were not surprised to hear this happy tale.
“I am blessed,” the merchant said, “and now I know how true your words were. Misfortune brought me my greatest fortune.”