Once upon a time, a peddlar came to a small town. In his cart, he told all the townspeople that he saw, he carried a magical mirror. If a person stood before the mirror and wished for the most valuable thing in the world, the mirror would grant the person’s wish.
Of course, all of the townspeople were very excited about this mirror and could not wait to test the peddlar’s claims. The peddlar cautioned them, though, that the mirror’s riddle was more difficult than many people thought. It would do nothing unless the correct wish was made and the wisher knew what was most precious in this world. This didn’t deter the townspeople, who each thought that they knew of the most valuable wish to make.
Later that evening, the peddlar revealed the mirror to the town. As he unwrapped the velvet cloth covering it, a hush fell over the crowd with anticipation. What would such a mirror look like? Would it be covered in gold and jewels? Or perhaps made of the finest wood?
Dropping the cloth from the mirror, the peddlar held it in his hands before the crowd. There it was, in all of its simplicity! Just a small piece of glass and lead, only about a square foot, surrounded by a cheap pine frame. Some in the crowd gasped out of surprise, and others laughed. How could such a simple piece of furniture make wishes come true, let alone provide the most valuable item in the world to all of those who asked for it? Not willing to take a chance that the mirror wasn’t real, though, the townspeople quickly lined up to start their wishing, each being certain that they had the answer to the mirrors riddle.
The peddlar instructed them to stand before the mirror and imagine themselves with the most valuable item they could think of. If they were correct, they would immediately have it for themselves.
The first wisher was a man who believed that money was the most valuable thing in the world. He pictured himself surrounded by gold coins and piles of dollars. As he looked on, the mirror created the image from his imagination and he saw himself in the mirror surrounded by an amazing fortune. Believing that he had the answer to the riddle, the man smiled to himself. Just then, the mirror laughed at him and the image dissolved. “Ha ha ha,” it said. “This is not the most precious thing in the world. Next!” Now dejected, the man walked away.
The next wisher was a woman who believed that power was the most valuable thing in the world. She pictured herself commanding an army of soldiers, ruling her own country, and creating awe in the citizens of her lands. As before, the mirror created these images from the woman’s thoughts. Just as quickly, the image was shattered as the mirror again retorted, “Ha ha ha! This is not the most precious thing in the world. Next!”
This same pattern repeated itself as each townsperson stepped before the mirror and made his or her wish. Wishes were made for fine jewels, beautiful clothing, expansive mansions and luxurious feasts. But none of these proved to be the answer to the mirror’s riddle.
Finally, as evening approached and the crowd began to dwindle, a young boy came to the front of the line. He had rushed to the center of town from his parents’ bedside, where both were stricken with raging fevers and terrible coughs. He was very scared that his parents would not recover, and that his family would be broken apart.
As he approached the mirror, there was only one wish that rested in his heart. In his mind he pictured his parents healthy again, with smiles on their faces as they set off for a family walk through the garden. Looking on, he expected to see this idyllic scene emerge in the mirror, as all of the other wishes had. But the mirror remained blank. Confused and thinking the mirror was broken, he turned to walk away but stopped when he heard something strange.
“Ha, ha, ha,” the mirror laughed, although this time it was not a defiant laugh but a friendly chuckle. “Little boy, you have wished for the most valuable thing in the world. Go home and you will see that your wish is granted.”
As the remaining townspeople looked on in surprise, the boy ran home. When approached his gate, he saw that his wish was granted. Waiting for him were his father and mother, cured of their fevers and coughs, and ready with their walking shoes on. Taking each of his hands in their own, the happy family strolled down the lane to their garden.
The next day the peddlar and his mirror were gone, but the lesson they taught the townspeople remained.