The young woman walked along the road. It was the only road she had ever walked, and she had been walking it for as long as she could remember. Far ahead of her in the distance was a mountain. Its slopes were blue, and the top was hidden by clouds. And although the mountain looked very high and scary, it was where she wanted to be. Her whole life had been spent trying to get to the mountain, because the views from the top were beautiful. Everyone knew it.
She wasn’t the only traveller on the road. Over the years she passed many people, and many people passed her. Some even came back the other way, down from the mountain. Sometimes they looked happy and free, other times they looked impossibly sad. Sometimes the people she had passed a long time ago would catch her up, and overtake, and she would have to watch them disappearing into the distance. She didn’t like it when this happened. She wondered why she had bothered walking so quickly before, if those same people were just going to overtake her later.
One day, she was overtaken by three different people in a single morning. The first was a girl who had once been cruel to her. She came skipping along the road, and she was smiling and humming a tune, and looked very happy. When she saw the young woman she waved and said hello, as if they had always been friends, as if she had never been cruel, and then she skipped off up the road and disappeared.
The second was a young man the same age as her. He wasn’t as far along the road as she was, but she liked the look of him, so she stopped to let him catch up. They walked together for a while, but then he spotted another girl on the path up ahead, and he ran to catch up to her instead, leaving the young woman alone once more.
The third was a woman a few years older than herself. She had dark hair and dark eyes, and she kept tripping and falling over in the dirt. Every time she got up, only to fall down again a few steps later. Although the younger woman felt sorry for the older one, she was also proud to be further along the road than her.
You should watch where you put your feet, the young woman thought, then you wouldn’t trip over so much.
Then something very unexpected happened. A man came, and he picked the older woman up and carried her, running off into the distance and up the mountain.
By this time the young woman felt very sad and fed up. She had spent all this time walking as fast as she could, only for these people to come along and overtake. Sulking, she flopped down on a patch of grass beside the road and refused to go any further.
Before long, an old man came by, and he saw her sitting there, but instead of carrying on up the road, he came and sat next to her.
‘Dear child, what’s wrong?’ he asked. ‘Why are you not walking?’
‘There’s no point,’ said the young woman. ‘People keep overtaking me. They’re going to get to the mountain before me, and it doesn’t seem fair. I’ve been walking for such a long time, surely I should be there already.’
Then she told the old man about the three people who had overtaken her, and how sad it made her feel. The old man was quiet for a long time afterwards. He looked at the mountain, and he sat there thinking, and eventually he said this:
‘The girl who was cruel to you has grown up since then. She is no longer a child, careless with her words. She is a young woman who has worked hard, of course she deserves to reach the mountain.
‘As for the man who left you, he was not the right walking partner for you, and you were not the right one for him. You may walk together for a little while, but together you would never reach the mountain.
‘Now for the woman who kept falling over. Her journey has been longer and harder than yours. It is only right that the end should be easier.’
The young woman listened, and she knew the old man was right, and that she could not argue.
‘I know,’ she said, ‘I just thought I would be further along the road by now.’
She looked up at the mountain, which still seemed a very long way away.
‘Some people arrive sooner than they think,’ said the old man kindly. ‘Others arrive much later. We may all walk the same road, but everyone’s journey is different. There is no way of knowing how long yours will take. Just know that as long as you keep walking, you are sure to reach the mountain one day.’
‘Are the views up there really as beautiful as they say?’ asked the young woman.
‘More,’ replied the old man with a smile. ‘But the views down here are beautiful too, are they not?’
It was true. The young woman could see it now. The road was wide and sandy and winding like a river, the grass on either side carpeted with wildflowers. It really was very beautiful.
‘I must leave you now,’ said the old man, getting to his feet. ‘But remember, if you want to admire all the views, then a longer journey is best. Do not worry about other people. You cannot go on their journey-only your own-so do not waste your time on the road wishing you were moving faster. You are already going as fast as you can. It does not matter if your fast is slower than someone else’s. It does not matter if someone else reaches the mountain before you. Enjoy the journey, admire the views, and know that every step brings you closer to that mountain.’