The Survival Kit

By David Armstrong

Jackson enjoyed the warm sun and the brilliant blue sky above the snow-capped peaks of the Uinta mountains. The early spring air carried the scent of a million wildflowers and budding trees.

His hiking buddies continued up the trail as Jackson stopped to examine a tiny purple flower growing next to the trail. A honey bee nudged its way into the open petals as it searched for nectar. Either full or frustrated, the bee eventually backed out of the flower and flew away.

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Are You Stagnant?

“Elder Minson, do you ever feel stagnant?”

More than 20 years ago, I was a full-time missionary, working daily to spread the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. At a particular point, you could probably say things were going well, but maybe too many of my conversations with my line leader over the phone sounded a little too similar. So he asked me that question.

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The Shopkeeper’s Bargain

Tony, a man who enjoyed traveling, took a backpacking trip across a European country he hadn’t visited before. He loaded his pack with the various supplies he would need while leaving a bit of room for souvenirs he would buy along the way. Then he flew a plane to a city located on the southern border and headed out on his journey.

Tony smiled at the late spring sunshine and warmth accompanied by a breeze whispering through the grasses. He whistled one tune after another as he went, following first a brook and then a ravine as he made his way generally northward.

While walking along a lane between expansive fields, Tony stopped when his hiking boot connected with something and sent it skittering forward. His eyes traced its movement; curious, he went to where the object stopped and peered down at it. A bottlecap! Now, Tony was a collector. The bottlecap caught his interest, and why not keep it? It wouldn’t take up any room or add any weight of consequence to his pack. So he took it.

A couple hours later, he happened upon a rock half the size of his palm. It shimmered like bronze when the sunlight hit certain patches of it. “That’s cool,” Tony murmured. He picked it up and added it to his pack.

The next morning, Tony noticed a hawk’s banded feather caught in a clump of grass at the base of a fencepost. He added it to his collection. Soon after, he discovered a piece of an old, weathered sign with the word “NO” still visible in fading, peeling paint. Tony chuckled. It could be fun to use that somehow.

And so it continued. As Tony consumed the food and water he had brought, the resulting room in his pack became filled with the odds and ends he found while he hiked. Sometimes he noticed something out in a field or down by a pond, and he would go out of his way to pick up the item he had seen.

He entered the first town on his route and bought more food to last him to the next town. It took some effort to fit it inside his pack. He transferred some of the knickknacks he’d collected in the outside pockets and netting.

Before leaving town, he stopped briefly at some souvenir shops, but his pack had no room for any of it, so he moved on without purchasing any.

The pattern continued between there and the next town. When Tony next bought food and water, he had to exercise a greater degree of cleverness to make everything fit. He grunted as he hoisted the backpack onto his shoulders again. Once again, he could only browse the souvenir shops.

By the time he made it to the final town, Tony was staggering under the weight of his collection and had to take frequent rests. He no longer whistled. He made his way up the main road, barely noticing the idyllic surroundings—the neat wood-framed cottages; the green, well-kept lawns; the blooming hedgerows; the clean cobblestone roads and paths.

A villager with a white mustache and beard leaned against a low wall and watched him over his glasses, which sat low on his nose. Then the approached Tony. “That looks like quite the load,” the villager observed. “Judging by some of the things you’ve put in these outside pockets, you have some real treasures inside your pack.”

Tony nodded, catching his breath. “It’s all great stuff,” he said. The pack felt like it was sagging, so he hitched it up higher. The stranger’s eyebrows rose when he heard the clatter and jangling inside.

“You’re not from around here, I take it. You’ve picked up some souvenirs on your way here? Some from the souvenir shops along the way, I mean.”

“Nah, haven’t had room,” Tony replied. “Too many good things along the way.”

The villager’s eyebrows rose again. “Mind if I see what you have?”

“Uh . . . sure.”

The villager helped him lower the backpack to the ground. He carefully unzipped the pack’s main compartment. Peering through his glasses, the villager inspected the contents. “You’ve been eating rocks and drinking feathers? Or was there food in here at one time?”

“I had food, yeah.”

The villager eyed him steadily for several moments, then zipped the pack shut. “Come with me, please.”

He led Tony around to the back door of a shop and opened it. The door led into a kitchen. The villager seemed to know his way around the place, so Tony presumed he was the shopkeeper. “Have a seat,” his host said, motioning to the table sitting off to one side. Tony set down his pack; his knees gave way and he let out a groan as he half-fell onto a wooden chair. The shopkeeper gave him a knowing look and brought some food and drink out of his refrigerator.

While Tony ate and drank—and it was the best he’d had on his journey—his host gazed out the window over the sink, seemingly lost in thought. But as soon as the meal was finished, he said again, “Come with me.”

He led his guest through another door; this one led into the shop, which was full of wonderful collectible items representing this beautiful country and its culture—the kinds of things that Tony had imagined taking home with him in the first place. “These are the finest souvenirs you can get in this land,” said the shopkeeper. “But they’re also affordable. I’m sure you brought some money with you for souvenirs, eh?”

Tony nodded, feeling somewhat forlorn. “I did, but I found too many other things to be able to take any of this. I would love to. I just don’t have any room left.”

That gaze drilled into him from over those glasses. “You don’t need any of what you’re carrying,” said the shopkeeper. “Not a bit of it. Don’t waste the room you have in that pack when you could take home some things that are worth having.”

“But . . . I don’t know. This stuff is good, you know?” However, looking around, Tony wished he could take his backpack full of discoveries and also buy all the souvenirs he could afford. If only he could take two backpacks home . . .

As if reading his thoughts, the shopkeeper said softly, “You can’t have both. And I know you’re going to regret it if you don’t take some real souvenirs. You may not ever pass this way again.”

Then he straightened. “Let me put it to you this way.” He went back into his quarters behind the shop and soon reappeared. He held up a sizable coin between thumb and forefinger. It shone a rich yellow. “This is a gold coin. The real thing.” Tony gaped. The shopkeeper continued, “I will buy everything you have in that pack with this. Everything you’ve collected. Then you can turn around and use it and your other money to buy some souvenirs that will really mean something.”

The backpacker looked hard at the shopkeeper and his coin. “You’re not having me on?”

“I’ve never been more serious in my life.” He held out the coin.

The backpacker took it. Before he could think twice, he handed over the backpack.

“It’s a trade! I’ll be right back with this,” said the shopkeeper. “Look around and decide what you want.”

The traveler wandered around the shop, his wonder growing as he browsed. The shopkeeper had been right. His merchandise was affordable. Tony picked out and set a number of things on the counter. At that point, the shopkeeper entered once more and gave Tony the pack, only now it held nothing but enough food to get the traveler to the end of his journey.

“I’d like to buy all these if I can,” said the traveler.

“Absolutely,” said the shopkeeper. “Aside from the coin, how much cash do you have?” Tony told him the sum. “Yes, that will be just enough.”

He helped Tony put everything in the pack. “It has been a pleasure,” he said. “I feel confident you’ll be happier with these items than you would have been with all that . . . well, that junk. I think your loved ones and friends will be more pleased as well.”

“Thank you for your generosity,” said Tony. They shook hands.

“Godspeed,” said the shopkeeper with a warm grin.

With his own smile, once again whistling, and this time feeling refreshed and much lighter, Tony moved forward to finish his journey.

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The Anonymous Gift

Elaine and Marie lived in the same apartment building and had now been friends for over three years. In between work and college classes, they would take turns watching their favorite streaming shows or just talk.

Marie had an old laptop of her dad’s that she used for school. It ran slower and slower, and one by one the programs she needed for her coursework stopped working as the software companies’ support for her out-of-date operating system ran out.

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