Six Foot by Three Foot

Have you read Leo Tolstoy’s (1825-1910) short story How Much Land Does a Man Need? It’s about a peasant farmer not satisfied with his lot in life. He wanted more of everything. One day he receives an amazing offer. For 1,000 rubles, he could buy all the land he could walk around in a day. The only catch was that he had to be back at the starting point by sundown or the deal was off. The story ends with the greedy peasant stumbling back just before sundown; completely exhausted, collapsing and dying as he crosses the line. His servants dig a grave. It was six feet long and three feet wide; which ironically, is the answer to the question asked in the story’s title: “How much land does a man need?” Tolstoy’s answer: Six foot by three foot. That’s what he needs; but that’s not what he wants.

Here is my 21st century version:

Toys-R-Us was having a drawing. If selected you had four minutes to take whatever you wanted from the store. And however much stuff you put in your cart, you got to keep. Guess what, they chose my name!

I was there Saturday morning, just like they told me. All the customers were cheering. The manager told me there really weren’t any rules. The contest was simple: I would have four minutes to put whatever I want in my cart; in fact, if I filled one cart I could get another, and another, and so on.

The only rule was that I had to be back to the start line before the four minutes were up. If I wasn’t, I’d lose everything. No problem. The plan was to start in one corner, spend a minute on each outer aisle and be back before the four minutes ended. “Ready, Set, Go”, shouted the manager. The clock began and so did I.

Aisle 1 was the games; Uno and Battleship and Twister and so much more. Looking at my watch, I had spent a minute and ten seconds. No problem, I’ll make up for it by spending less time on aisle two. Aisle 2 was all the sports stuff; footballs, basketballs, baseballs, nets, goals, and pads. I was throwing stuff right and left into my cart. I quickly glanced at my watch; I had spent another minute and ten seconds. No problem, I’ll spend a shorter time on the next aisle.

Aisle 3 was all the radio controlled toys—cars, boats, and planes. I had to grab another cart. Looking at my watch, I had spent another minute and ten seconds. I quickly did the math; I only had 30 seconds to get back to the start line.

I turned the corner to aisle 4 and my eyes got really big. It was the electronic and video game section; X-Box and PlayStation and Wii everywhere. I was grabbing and chucking as fast as I could. I glanced at my watch. I only had ten seconds to get back to the start line. I panicked. I gave up on carts two and three; maybe I could get cart one across the line. Desperately running I could hear the manager’s countdown, “3-2-1” but I was still ten feet away when I heard, “Time is up”.

I didn’t make it. I watched store clerks push my overloaded carts away. Mine was a great opportunity; but I ended up with nothing.

I had my hands on so much stuff—but in the end all was lost. Then some old Bible verses came back: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ…” (Col. 3:2-3).

Surprisingly, as I drove off, I was actually glad my trunk was empty and my back seat bare; for it was a vivid reminder that Christ is my life and that anything on aisle 2 and 4 and any other couldn’t compare.

I need to be reminded of that from time-to-time; perhaps you do, too. Six foot by three foot might be sooner than we think.

Pastor Rich Hamlin

June 14, 2012

1 comment

  1. That’s just like that scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when the senior Dr. Jones played by Sean Connery is holding onto the junior Dr. Jones played by Harrison Ford who is reaching out to grab the grail and risk losing his life … except for the fact that there was no electronic and video game section in the movie.

    And Tolstoy’s short story is a good reminder of the difference between what we need and what we convince ourselves that we need.