In a man's pocket was a coin. This man owned next-to-nothing else – just the coin and the clothes on his back. At times, through luck alone, he found himself well fed or sleeping in a warm and dry place. But most of the time he huddled hungry and out in the open, clutching the coin through the chilling nights, squeezing it tight in his fist.
He never spent the coin, and when a bit of extra cash came his way he made sure to keep it separate from his coin. Even when near starving he would not part with the coin for the bread that might save him from death. Instead, he would roll the coin over the tops of his his fingers, back and forth, so that it caught the light and flashed on each rotation, his eyes fixed on it, until hunger subsided.
On warm days, he would walk by the shops on main street and look at what he could get for his coin: perhaps a modest but sturdy set of new clothes; maybe an ample supply of groceries; or how about a ticket for a long voyage? After such a day, having purchased nothing, he would head out to the edge of the woods and sleep easy under the stars. “The wilderness hasn't claimed me yet,” he would think before his eyes closed.
Years passed this way.
A war broke out and, when it was over, the town came under new rule. The old currency was banned and a new currency minted. When the man learned of this change, he took up the coin in his hand and kissed the worn smoothness of its surface, and, as tears welled in his smiling eyes, he tossed the coin into the gutter.
A shopkeeper, who witnessed this scene, approached the man and asked “If you had this coin, why did you not spend it when you had the chance?”
To which the man replied, “If I'd have spent it, it would have simply been gone. The clothes it purchased would have worn way, food it afforded would have been eaten, the voyage come and gone.”
Having said these words he left the streets of his town and entered into the woods, where he soon died.