Long ago, the Indian kingdom of Benares had an abominable law. When a man reached sixty years of age, his children had to give him a mat on which to sit day and night, guarding the gate of the home.
In this kingdom lived a man whose wife died young, leaving him with two small sons to raise. He brought them up by himself in extreme poverty. Finally he reached the age of sixty. The older son, who acted as though he had raised himself, told his brother, “Find a mat and give it to Father, so he can sit by the gate from now on.”
The younger brother, who was devoted to their father, racked his brain. Finally he fetched a mat from the storeroom and cut it in half. Choking back tears, he handed half of the mat to the old man and said, “Father, I am very sorry, but it is my brother’s order. Starting today, you must sit on this mat and watch over the gate.”
Puzzled, his brother asked, “Why didn’t you give him the whole mat?”
“We have only one,” came the reply. “If I give it all to Father now, that will mean trouble down the road when we need another mat, won’t it?”
“Why would we need another mat?” asked the older brother, more mystified than ever. “Who would use it?”
“No one stays young forever. The other half is for you.”
“For me? Why?”
“When you turn sixty, won’t your children be distressed if there is no mat for you?”
The older brother realized with a shock that someday his own children would force the same ignominy on him. Awakened to the injustice of the perfidious law, he stood up with his younger brother to fight it, and together they succeeded in having it struck from the books.
The lot of someone else today will be my lot tomorrow. Shifts and changes are inevitable in life. But often we are so filled with self-importance that we find it difficult to perceive the stark reality of our inevitable end.