The Real Estate Agent
A Contemporary Parable
You have decided to buy a home in a gated community but you are not permitted to see the homes, even from the outside, without first hiring a real estate agent. You exit your high-end SUV and walk to the security gatehouse which blocks your entry to the area behind it, where there are houses for sale. You knock and the guard opens his door. "Good morning, sir. May I help you?", he asks.
"I heard that the homes and gardens behind this gate are the most beautiful anywhere", you tell him, as you crane your neck over his shoulder to see the lush manicured region beyond the gate.
"Yes, that's right. They're out of this world."
"I would like to go behind your gate to locate a real estate agent. I'm thinking of buying one of your houses."
"We have only one real estate agent but you must make an appointment to see him. You must also pay a fee to enter in behind our gate."
"All right, I have an hour to spare for house-hunting. What's the fee?", you ask as you open your wallet.
"Everything you have."
"What? Everything I have? Everything? Are you serious?
"Dead serious. The fee is everything you have. Take it or leave it."
"Why, that's ridiculous! I won't pay it!"
"That is your choice. You cannot live here until you sign over everything you own. Then you can see the real estate agent and choose your new house."
"But if I give you everything I have, I will have nothing left to buy the house with."
"Oh, that's just a detail that will be worked out later. Our real estate agent will simply escort you to a magnificent home. You can move in tomorrow if you like. Meals are free, maintenance is free although nothing ever breaks. Entertainment is free too. You never get old or sick when you live behind the gate, and no one has fences between their houses because no one ever disagrees about anything. The weather is always perfect, flowers are always in bloom and there is a rainbow every day - it lasts all day. Everyone is always happy. To top it off, the real estate agent has unique powers – he makes everyone feel wanted and loved, even new residents, and he will always be there to talk to", he rattles on. "He knows everything there is to know about everybody and about everything, and is a fascinating conversationalist. Oh, one more thing; you live forever, did I mention that? Now, I will ask one last time, will you pay the fee? Everything you have? Better be sure before you answer." He smiles engagingly.
You stare at the guard for a long moment, not quite grasping everything he said. "Well, it sounds like heaven to me, but I don't want to give up everything I have just to live here."
"Suit yourself. There is another option, though. There is a less-restricted gated community nearby, Abaddon Acres. It appears to be very nice from the outside."
"You mean there's another place like this one that's cheaper to get into?"
"It's a lot cheaper, yes. See that security gate over there?" He gestures to another similar gate about fifty yards to his left. "You can knock on the door and check out Abaddon's gated community as well. Many people have found it suits their purposes quite well. In fact, more people decide on Abaddon Acres than here."
"Really? I wonder why. It looks very nice. Just as nice as here. I think I'll check it out. Maybe I can get a bargain."
He nods and smiles. "See you again, I'm sure."
You stroll over to the other gatehouse, anticipating getting a really good deal on a house. You knock on the door. The guard who opens the door is very pleasant. "May I help you, sir?"
"I'd like to know what your fee is so I can see your houses. I'm in the market to make a move."
"There's no fee. Just go in and knock on any real estate agent's door. Any one of them will show you around the community."
"You have more than one agent? The other gated community over there has only one real estate agent and he is pretty busy. I would need an appointment to see him."
"Yes, I know, but he is not an honest man. Don't deal with him. He will just try to take everything you have and will lie to you. He will make you believe that things are perfect in his community. He'll tell you all sorts of enticing things and make you think he cares about you personally, but he really doesn't - that's the part that hooks most people. However, you will find all our agents to be totally honest. Just go ahead through the gate and knock on any agent's door."
You say thanks and head off through the gate to find a real estate agent. Everything looks very upscale, just as pretty as the first community. You enter the attractive one-story office complex, enjoying the stroll down a long, long hall festooned with green plants, most of which are withered, which strikes you as odd. "For such a well-maintained place I'd think plants would thrive here", you think.
You shrug off the thought, wondering which door to knock on. Finally, after walking for about five minutes, you choose one at random. It's marked "A. Pollyon, Senior Agent." His door is the six hundredth and sixty-sixth door down the hall. There is a lot of activity going on. Doors are opening and closing, smiling real estate agents are escorting potential buyers to and fro. Your door opens to reveal an extremely handsome, charming well-dressed man, perfectly manicured man. He extends his hand to you and smiles, almost glowing. "How may I help you today, sir?"
You shake hands and a sudden rush of hot fetid air whooshes through the room. You think you smell the pungent odor of rotten eggs. Clearing your head of the odor, you say, "Mr. Pollyon, I'd like to see your houses. I'm thinking of making a move soon. You sniff the air, distracted. What's that awful smell?"
"Oh, that. Just ignore it. I'm having it fixed soon but the contractors are always so busy. You know how it is. Now, sir, I am sure I have just the house for you. It's special, has all the amenities. Food here is free, there are no maintenance fees and the weather is always warm and cozy. Plus, the house won't cost you a cent."
You laugh out loud but decide to play along. "A free house? What's the catch? A pint of blood? My firstborn? What?"
"No catch. We ask only for a small token of your appreciation, some nice gesture on your part."
"Gesture?" You begin to get suspicious. Frowning, "What kind of gesture?"
"Well, this might sound odd, but we ask all our potential residents to go back to the other guardhouse across the street and tell the guard that since visiting here at Abaddon Acres, you have decided you don't trust their real estate agent and dislike him intensely."
"Why? I don't even know him! Why would I do that? It's not even true."
"Truth? What does truth matter?" He shrugs. "That's our only requirement. It's not asking too much, is it? It's only a little white lie anyway – it can't hurt. Besides, you get a free house here. You get free food, too, and you get it all forever. It's a bargain." He smiles warmly and you feel suddenly at ease, thinking that it's all just a bit strange but you're overwhelmed by being offered such a good deal. I guess he isn't joking after all, you think.
"Well, all right. What you say seems reasonable enough. At least this way, I don't have to give up everything I own."
You walk across the street to the first gatehouse and get the guard's attention. Before he has a chance to say anything you say, "Tell your real estate agent that I don't trust him to carry out all his promises and I dislike him intensely. And I won't buy a house from him."
Visibly saddened but not seeming surprised, the guard says, "Ah, I see you have made a bargain to live in the other community so you can keep all your worldly goods. That's certainly your choice but I think I should ask you a few questions before you make a final decision. May I?"
What can a few questions hurt, you think. "Sure, fire away."
"Did the Abaddon guard tell you that you will decay, be in pain and will never feel love any more? Did he tell you that the weather is always too hot and that you always eat the same thing – dust and ashes? Did he warn you about the snakes and stinging insects and did he say that the other real estate agents will try to sell your house out from under you? Did he tell you that all the houses are built on shifting sand and could collapse at any moment and be swallowed up forever? Did he tell you that their real estate agent lied to you, that the houses are not really free at all? Did he tell you that living there will cost you the love of your friends, your family and God? And that you will be unhappy for all eternity? Did he tell you that lying was a serious crime?"
"No! He didn't tell me any of that. He just told me everything was free, the house, the food….."
"I thought not. The devil is in the details. Didn't you ask him about all the other things like rainbows and flowers and love and never having pain or getting older? I'm pretty sure he never mentioned the fact that here we give out free new bodies that never wear out. Bet he didn't tell you that. The bodies are one of our best premiums, a little bonus for living here. They don't give you new bodies over there but they don't tell you they don't because sometimes it queers the deal for them. Over there, you're stuck with the body you move in with, pain and all, forever."
"No, I didn't ask about any of that. I guess I just thought that getting the free house and free food was a better deal than giving up everything I have for a house and free meals. I didn't really examine the other things he said because the offer seemed like such a bargain."
"It always does. Do you still think it's a bargain? Would you rather keep all you have and get only a free house and free food with only eternal pain and torment to look forward to, or would you prefer to give up everything you have for eternal life, eternal love, eternal peace, joy and happiness, surrounded by the most loving atmosphere imaginable and always hanging around with the most loving, kind person who ever lived?"
You hesitate, pondering the two offers. "Hm. Your place sure sounds a lot better than Abaddon Acres now that I've heard the whole truth. But if I decide to live here, can I keep just one thing?"
"What one thing?"
"My self. Can I keep my self? I'd like to be able to do as I please, say what I want, go where I please when I please, believe what I want, and ignore all demands on my time and energy. I'd like to be nice only when I feel like it and I'd like to indulge all my desires. I'd like to stay uninvolved unless it's on my terms and I would like to refuse to help other people if they get on my nerves. I also would like to hate anybody I want and brag about myself a lot. It's not like I really want to keep any of my material things. I'll give you all I have if I can just keep my self."
"Sorry, no deal." He remains unflappable but pleasant. "You must give up everything including your self. You must change your life so that you serve instead of being served and you must ignore your own desires in favor of others' desires. And you must do it of your own free will and with joy. Come back when you can do that."
You silently ponder the offer for several moments while the guard eyes you patiently. "All right, all right. You can have my self, too, if it really matters to you."
"It doesn't matter to me at all. It only matters to the real estate agent, who is considering rejecting your application."
"But why? I just said I'd give it all up. Even my self. Why would my application be rejected?", you whine, becoming a little panicky, sensing that this may be a lot more important than it seems.
"Yes, but you agreed under pressure, after you first bargained to see how little you could give up. You have to want to give it all up, including your self. Giving up everything doesn't count if you feel like it's a last resort."
"I think I understand. This certainly puts a different light on things. Can I think about this a little longer and then come back?"
"Take as long as you like, but don't come back unless you're certain you want to live here and are happy about your decision to give up everything. These houses are really in demand, you know. Availability is limited. Time is short."
You leave the gatehouse and go home to think about the two communities, the two choices. One community costs everything you own including your very self but is a much more loving, beautiful, happy, healthy place. Plus you get to live that way forever in close contact with a wonderful person who cares about you and loves you unconditionally, personally.
The other community costs nothing to enter, you get to keep everything you own plus your self, but you live there forever in eternal pain and sorrow. You will always have food and shelter there, even if it's not your favorite cuisine and the climate is a little too warm for your taste.
You must decide quickly because it has been rumored that very soon, all houses in the first community may be sold out, so you don't have much time left to think about it.
You worry because you still want to keep some of your stuff. You don't have the desire or the willingness to give it all up just yet. You'll give up some stuff maybe, but not all. You remember what the guard said that you have to really want to give up everything. Somehow you're not quite certain you actually can joyfully give it all up, though. You really want the house, but…..
You decide on a last ditch attempt at bargaining. You drive back to the first gatehouse and ask the guard if you could please meet the one lone real estate agent. He says, "All right, but this is the last time you will be considered, so ask him whatever you want to know before you leave his office. Try to get to know him, because once you meet with him, you must make a firm decision about either living here or over there across the street. You won't get another chance."
Wondering why he feels pressured and wondering why he is only given a single last chance after meeting the real estate agent, you agree anyway, thinking you'll sort out the details later.
"All right, let's get this over with."
The guard smiles pleasantly and leaves his post to escort you to the one and only real estate agent's office. The door is already opened and you walk in. Much to your surprise, the office is bare except for a large elaborate chair made of what seems like gold. However, the room is bright and sunny. The light seems to have no real source. No windows, no lamps, no bulbs…..The walls seem to be almost transparent, the floor is a shiny mirror completely studded with twelve different kinds of gemstones. It is spectacular but strangely out of place. "Where's all the furniture?", you think. "How odd..."
Suddenly you notice the tension in your neck and shoulders that had been bothering you all week is gone. Your body relaxes perceptibly. The allergic sniffles and sneezes that plague you year 'round are gone. This office must have a state-of-the-art filtration system, you think. "I can breathe!", you say aloud. The air is fresh and clean, smelling faintly of lilies.
Your sciatica has vanished and you get a sudden feeling of elation, almost a giddiness, like you're floating. It's a very pleasant feeling. In fact, you have the conscious thought that you've never felt better in your life. As you assess the possible reasons for this sudden flush of well-being, a man appears. This must be the real estate agent, you guess.
He smiles warmly. He appears to be handsome but it's more an impression rather than something you actually see. When you look more closely at him, he doesn't seem at all remarkable in appearance, nothing distinguishing, yet he radiates warmth and genuine caring.
"I can help you", he says. It is not a question. He seems to already know exactly what is on your mind. He stands up, smiles and casually beckons, "Follow me."
Drawn by his confident personal magnetism, you follow beside him, ready to begin the transaction.
"Let me introduce myself", he says, as the two of you walk toward a magnificent mansion. "My name is Alfie Omega and I know all about you and the decision you must make."
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Omega. I'm Adam. Adam Sapiens. And yes, it's time for me to make a decision. It can't wait. But how come you already know all about me?"
"The word gets around. Now then, welcome to Good News Estates, Adam. And let's not be so formal. Call me Alfie. Things are pretty loose and friendly around here. All right then, to the business at hand. Let me offer you this fabulous house and in return, you only have to be my friend, follow me and do as I ask. If you agree, you will have everything you could possibly want and more, and you will have it in abundance and you will have it forever. All your desires will be satisfied, although I'm pretty sure you won't have any desires; you'll be happy enough just living here. That's the way it always works out with everyone who comes here."
"All right…Alfie. Your guard told me about all the amenities just a little while ago. It sounds wonderful." You hesitate for a moment. "You seem...familiar somehow. Strange, but I feel like I know you – like I've always known you, and yet we've just met."
"Yes, I hear that a lot."
"Could it be we've met someplace before?"
"God knows. I'm a pretty outgoing guy. You may have run into me before someplace and just forgot. I love people. All people. I'm just a people-person so maybe it shows. You see, my father and I made a deal a long time ago that I would give up everything to run this business. I gave up all I had because I love people and wanted to devote all my time to making them happy. So I offered them my life if they wanted it. That's probably what you're sensing."
"You gave up everything, too? Even your life? Your job must mean an awful lot to give up your whole life for it. Well, you are sure the nicest person I've ever met. You make me feel so relaxed, so welcome. You're so friendly. I bet you give away lots of these houses."
"You'd be surprised. This fabulous offer is available to everyone but so few actually take me up on it, even though I do get quite a few nibbles. I guess the price is just too high. Giving up everything including your self and following somebody else around is just too restrictive for some people, even though what they get in return is so much better than what they already have. It's hard convincing them of that in advance, though. Plus, they have to come alone."
You practically jump out of your skin. "What? Come alone? You mean I can't bring my wife with me? My kids or grandchildren either? The guard didn't tell me that! I thought the whole family could live here. The kids could visit, we'd barbeque, have lots of…"
"I'm sorry you weren't told. But there is some very good news. Your wife and kids can follow along later, after you move in. The only thing is that they have to make the same decision you have to make; the decision about whether or not to give up everything. You can't decide for them. Sometimes it takes a long time but very often when one person decides, the others follow. It's really worth it, trust me."
"Yes. I do trust you. I notice a lot of very happy energetic people here. None of them seem frail or the least bit unhappy. Have all these people made the decision to give up everything too?"
"Yes, but they don't see it as giving up anything. They realized once they'd met me that all the stuff they had wasn't worth anything anyway, and all that mattered was living close to me. I guess they trust me to care for their needs and that's all they care about. They really want to please me. They also know I have the power to give them everything they need. I learned how to do that ages ago. You see, in the beginning, the first residents who lived here had to leave. My father evicted them because they wouldn't honor the covenants. Since then, we're pretty careful about who we let in. It's a pretty exclusive community, but all are welcome to stay once they agree to my friendship.
Here's a little more community history. Some of the folks who live here decided to come here only after something in their old neighborhood really scared them. I care very much about those people too, but they sure missed out on a lot of years of happiness in their old neighborhoods by waiting until the last minute to decide to come here. Their fear drove them here, but that's all right. I love them, too. I just wish they'd have moved here sooner. They'd have been a lot happier. Anyway, that's all behind us and they're ecstatically happy now, so that's all that matters. Better late than never, I always say."
"You seem to really love these folks. There's so many of them. Do you know them all by name? Personally?"
"Yes. Every one. They're great people. And so loyal. I just can't do enough for them. Well, I can, actually, but they don't really want any more, let's put it that way. They're perfectly satisfied with things as they are."
"It's hard to believe you really love all these people. I don't know anyone else who loves everybody. How did you come to care so much about everybody?"
"Genetics. My father's the same way."
"Does your father still live here?"
"Yes, but there's no need to meet him. We're so much alike. If you've met me, you've met him. Would you like to see the gardens now?"
"Yes, I would. And I think…no, I'm certain…that I want to live here. Where do I pay my fee? Where do I deposit all my things and my self? They're getting heavier by the minute and it's not very comfortable carrying them around any more."
"There's no need to actually bring your things here. All you have to do is really believe that I can relieve you of all your burdens and fears forever. And you have to love me as much as I love you, and you must do as I ask out of the sheer joy of it. That is all I require. Well, that's about it. Do you want to shake on it?"
You are taken aback by something Alfie just said. "You love me? You just met me. How can you love me?"
"I knew you before you were born. Besides, I was born to love people. It's what I do best. Think about it, though; you just met me too, and already you love me, so what's the difference? Now, how about that handshake?"
"You have a point." You extend your hand to him. "Now that I have met you and have seen how generous and kind and loving you are, I want us to be friends. I do want to love you. Please let me give you all I have and let me do anything you ask. I don't feel the least bit regretful about giving up all I have. In fact, it feels terrific! Like a great weight's been lifted off my shoulders."
Alfie's eyes light up with delight and he breaks into a huge warm smile. "I know the feeling." He throws his arms around you in a big powerful but gentle hug. You feel a surge of love for him just as if you'd hugged your own beloved father only it's even more intense, like you can't really let go. You don't want to let go.
He waits patiently until you have released him from the hug. Face to face, with his hands on your shoulders, he looks deeply into your eyes in a way that makes you feel enveloped in a living rainbow of sparkling diamonds. You lose all sense of your own body and of time. He finally speaks as he drapes one arm across your shoulders and you begin walking side-by-side. "Now. Let me show you to your new house. It's right past the crossroad."