The Merchant Who Had Four Wives
“There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see.” ~ Leonardo Davinci
Many years ago, in a bustling village by the sea, there lived a rich merchant who had 4 wives. Having spent decades building his business up from nothing, he was very happy to find himself, in his later years, well-respected by the community, and well-loved by his wives.
Of all of them, he loved the 4th above any other. So smitten was he that he adorned her with fine robes and jewelry, treated her to delicacies and exotic travel, and hired personal servants for her. Over the entire course of their marriage his love did not fail, and he gave her nothing but the best.
His 3rd wife was not far behind in his affections. She was a fine and stunning beauty, and he was very proud of her, always beaming at her appearance and making sure to show her off to his friends. Yet oftentimes, in the dark of night, he would lie awake and worry that she might one day abscond with one of them. Even during the waking hours this fear never left him, itching in the back of his brain like a pest he could not rid himself of.
His second wife, however, was always there to console him. She was the epitome of compassion, and his love for her, as a result, was entirely different than it was for the others. She was patient, attentive & wise, serving as his one and only true confidante in life. Whenever he found himself facing trouble, he turned unfailingly to her for guidance. With soothing words she would calm him, fill him with a resolute confidence and provide him the resolve to weather the storm and arise, time and again, in good standing.
None of this went unnoticed by his first wife. She was keenly aware of all of his activities, and of his great love for all the other wives, whom he clearly housed more affection for than her. In fact, he had barely come to acknowledge her at all over the years. Though she was by far the most loyal of all of them, and had made great contributions in maintaining his wealth and business — as well as being the chief force responsible for keeping his household and personal affairs together — he barely took notice of her. His lack of love for this humble woman was plain for all to see. Yet none of this bothered her. Of all four women, she held the most genuine and unfailing affection for her husband, unmoved in her love.
One day, long into the autumn of his life, the merchant fell terminally ill. Lying on his death bed, alone, he was faced with the terrible, looming reality of non-existence — of leaving his luxurious life and his four glorious wives behind here on the earthly plain. The thought was unbearable to him. Though he knew it was terribly selfish, he reached out in his desperation and his fear and asked if any of them would join him.
To the 4th wife he said, “I loved you the most, my dear. I endowed you with the finest clothing and showered you with care and gifts so great it left other women trembling with jealousy. Now that I am leaving this world, will you not follow me and keep me company?”
Without saying a word, she turned and walked away from him, not even a twinkle of emotion in her eye. He was stunned. After all these years!
Turning to his third wife he said, “You, who has been to me a pinnacle of beauty and a reflection of all I love in the world, and who I’ve treated with the utmost respect and gratitude, will you follow me and keep me company?”
“I cannot,” she replied, tears forming in her eyes, “I’ve already made plans to remarry.” And she walked away.
Heartbroken, he turned to his 2nd wife. “My confidante,” he said, “my strength, my great love, to you have I always turned in times of need and you have never failed me. Now I need your help again. When I die, will you follow me and keep me company?”
At this she burst into tears. “I’m sorry!” she cried. “I can and will do anything for you, but this one thing I simply cannot do! At the very most, I can only send you to your grave.” And she ran away crying.
So lost was the merchant to his 1st wife, so devastated by the rejection of all the others, that he did not remember her, even at this time. He writhed under the covers, reeling with the desperate isolation and loss that was closing in on him from all sides. To be mortal! To know death! It was too much. He thought he might die right then, if not for a voice that came softly to his ears, rising slowly out of the background silence, like raindrops on the wind: “I will leave with you, dear husband. I will follow you wherever it is you must go.“
The merchant looked up, and in all of his constriction and pain, the figure of his 1st wife was barely recognizable. She was dressed in a white shawl so light it was nearly translucent, and though her figure seemed deathly thin and her face sunken, her presence was luminescent. She appeared to him as a literal light in the darkness.
And it was then that he understood. There were no other wives. She had been the only one all along, yet he had neglected her with such vehemence that he had nearly forgotten her existence altogether.
Slipping away now, he realized that his 4th wife had been his body, and though he had loved it more than anything, lavishing it with riches and pleasure, there was no taking it with him. It would soon be gone forever.
His third wife, the most beautiful, had been all of his possessions, his status and his wealth. There would be no keeping those either.
And his second wife? Family and friends. No matter how close they had been while alive, the closest they could come on this journey was to the threshold of the grave. There their feet could go no further.
But his 1st wife, so unknown to him in his time here on earth, had returned, replete with the same love she had always held for him, and more. In truth, she had never left — it was only he who had closed his eyes to her. But now they were open again, and her arms were out, and the love and light that drifted over him now and consumed the darkness, lifted his worries, and calmed his fears bathed him in the truth of it: this feeling, this utter and perfect bliss, had been available to him all his life. All he had ever had to do was turn his attention to it, his one and only true love: his soul.