Red Marbles

When I first started this blog, I was struggling with eternal questions: “Who am I? Why am I Here? What Is My Purpose In Life?” That was at a point in my life when I decided to walk run away from a job I hated, strap on a backpack, and travel solo around the world for six months, searching for what would bring me joy. I learned what I had always known, that joy is an inside job. I learned that to find happiness, we must be true to ourselves. I learned that what is really important in life is not money or material things, but the love of family and friends. And I discovered the pleasure that comes from always being as kind as possible and helping others whenever the opportunity presents itself.

I can easily lose sight of all this. My ego wants to take back its old life whenever I am not present and mindful. Sometimes it is extremely difficult to stay in an attitude of loving kindness and unconditional acceptance. Recently I was put to a test of sorts, as I had occasion to be angry about an incident in my life. I reminded myself of a very important credo in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous: “It is a spiritual axiom that whenever we are angry or upset, there is something wrong with us.” This is not an easy thing to hear and it is even harder to accept, but I have found it to be quite true.

The Big Book also tells us that anger is fear based, and that this fear results because we are afraid we are going to lose something we have or we are not going to get something we deserve. It further states that fear cannot exist in the presence of faith. I have taken these words to heart over the years, and whenever I am angry or upset I first look to myself, asking, “What part of this is my responsibility?” Even if I have no responsibility for a situation, I always try to turn my anger to compassion. When someone treats me badly or behaves erratically, I recognize how miserable their life must be and pray for them.

The parable of the red marbles
The parable of the red marbles

What made me think of this today? It was an email from my sister, Linda, that got me thinking about the grand scheme of things, and I think it is worth copying here:


By W. E. Petersen

I was at the corner grocery store buying some early potatoes. I noticed a small boy, delicate of bone and feature, ragged but clean, hungrily apprising a basket of freshly picked green peas. I paid for my potatoes, but was also drawn to the display of fresh green peas. I am a pushover for creamed peas and new potatoes. Pondering the peas, I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation between Mr. Miller (the store owner) and the ragged boy next to me.

“Hello Barry, how are you today?”

“H’lo, Mr. Miller. Fine, thank ya. Jus’ admirin’ them peas. They sure look good.”

“They are good, Barry. How’s your Ma?”

“Fine. Gittin’ stronger alla’ time.”

“Good. Anything I can help you with?”

“No, Sir. Jus’ admirin’ them peas.”

“Would you like take some home?” asked Mr. Miller.

“No, Sir. Got nuthin’ to pay for ’em with.”

“Well, what have you to trade me for some of those peas?”

“All I got’s my prize marble here.”

“Is that right? Let me see it,” said Miller.

“Here ’tis. She’s a dandy.”

“I can see that. Hmmmmm, only thing is this one is blue and I sort of go for red marbles. Do you have a red one like this at home?” the store owner asked.

“Not zackley but almost.”

“Tell you what. Take this sack of peas home with you and next trip this way let me look at one of those red marbles,” Mr. Miller told the boy.

“Sure will. Thanks Mr. Miller.”

Mrs. Miller, who had been standing nearby, came over to help me. With a smile she said, “There are two other boys like him in our community, all three are in very poor circumstances. Jim just loves to bargain with them for peas, apples, tomatoes, or whatever. When they come back with their red marbles, and they always do, he decides he doesn’t like red after all and he sends them home with a bag of produce for a green marble or an orange one, when they come on their next trip to the store.”

I left the store smiling to myself, impressed with this man. A short time later I moved to Colorado but I never forgot the story of this man, the boys, and their bartering for marbles. Several years went by, each more rapid than the previous one. Just recently I had occasion to visit some old friends in that Idaho community and while I was there learned that Mr. Miller had died. They were having his visitation that evening and knowing my friends wanted to go, I agreed to accompany them. Upon arrival at the mortuary we fell into line to meet the relatives of the deceased and to offer whatever words of comfort we could.

Ahead of us in line were three young men. One was in an army uniform and the other two wore nice haircuts, dark suits and white shirts…all very professional looking. They approached Mrs. Miller, standing composed and smiling by her husband’s casket. Each of the young men hugged her, kissed her on the cheek, spoke briefly with her and moved on to the casket. Her misty light blue eyes followed them as, one by one, each young man stopped briefly and placed his own warm hand over the cold pale hand in the casket. Each left the mortuary awkwardly, wiping his eyes.

Our turn came to meet Mrs. Miller. I told her who I was and reminded her of the story from those manymyears ago and what she had told me about her husband’s bartering for marbles. With her eyes glistening, she took my hand and led me to the casket.

“Those three young men who just left were the boys I told you about. They just told me how they appreciated the things Jim ‘traded’ them. Now, at last, when Jim could not change his mind about color or size….they came to pay their debt. We’ve never had a great deal of the wealth of this world,” she confided, “but right now, Jim would consider himself the richest man in Idaho.”

With loving gentleness she lifted the lifeless fingers of her deceased husband. Resting underneath were three exquisitely shined red marbles.

The Moral : We will not be remembered by our words, but by our kind deeds.

I used to worry that there was some greater mission I was supposed to perform in order for my life to have meaning. I now know that if I live my life in a manner that is worthy of even ONE red marble, it will have had meaning.

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7 thoughts on “Red Marbles”

  1. Hello, I was searching this afternoon for the original author of the “Three Red Marbles” story. I found the story on your website, but not the author. I did finally trace it back to its origins and thought you might like to give credit to the original author, W. E. Petersen, of Pleasant Grove, Utah. It was originally published October 1975 in the Ensign Magazine and may be found digitally at
    (Sadly, in addition to failing to name the author, some of the details of this true account have been changed by subsequent re-posters.)
    Best wishes in your business during these challenging times.

  2. I suppose it’s one thing to loose your marbles, and another to give them away as gifts 😉 Thanks for the gentle reminder, Barb. Timely as always …

  3. Thank you Jeff:
    Sometimes I write something that truly seems to touch people or help in some way, and that fills me with gratitude. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me.

  4. Barbara, How timely… I am at a loss for words, which is historically remarkable. I will just share this post from my facebook page —

    To my friends who have beed so faithful:

    I have needed to cry for 3 days but the tears just wouldn’t come. Bittersweet memories have been flooding my mind as I recall what was, longing for it to remain. I was unconciously trying to understand why someone would want to destroy something so beautiful when I realized it is not for me to understand. My role is in doing my part to keep us together. A few hours later, I stumbled upon the blog of a woman who expressed her mind in the way my mind works. I long for the day when I will write at this level — I have attached a special post (one I really relate to) that includes a rather sneaky story from an e-mail she shared that allowed me the release I needed. All is in perspective again and I can be useful once more. Read this slowly. It has the power to make you think, which is why it was offered. You’ve been warned. I love you 🙂
    Peace — jb

  5. Such incidents prove that humanity is still here in this world. It made my eyes moist (my wife looking at me with surprise though)… Let me tell her the story…


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