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The Greatest Miracle in the World Mass Market Paperback – January 1, 1983
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About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The first time I saw him?
He was feeding pigeons.
By itself, this simple act of charity is not an unusual sight. One can find old people, who themselves look as if they could use a good meal, dropping crumbs for birds on the wharves of San Francisco, the Common in Boston, the sidewalks of Time Square, and points of interest in every city.
But this old man was doing it at the peak of a brutal snow storm that, according to the “all-news” station on my car radio, had already dumped a record-breaking twenty-six inches of white misery on Chicago and suburbs.
With rear wheels spinning, I had finally inched my car up the slight sidewalk incline to the gate of the self-park lot, a block behind my office, when I first noticed him. He was standing in the ebb of a monstrous snow drift, oblivious of the elements, rhythmically removing what appeared to be bread crumbs from a brown paper bag and dropping them carefully into a cluster of birds that swirled and swooped around the folds of his nearly ankle-length army-style overcoat.
I watched him through the metronomic sweeps of my hissing windshield wipers as I rested my chin on the steering wheel, trying to generate sufficient will power to open my car door, step out into the blizzard, and walk to the gate release box. He reminded me of those Saint Francis garden statues that one sees in plant and shrubbery stores. Snow almost completely covered his shoulder-length hair and had sprinkled itself through his beard. Flakes had even attached themselves to his heavy eyebrows, further accenting his dark high-cheek-boned features. Around his neck hung a leather cord and attached to it was a wooden cross which swayed from side to side as he dispensed tiny bits of the staff of life. Tied to his left wrist was a piece of clothesline which led down to where it was wrapped around the neck of an old multicolored basset hound whose ears dragged deeply into the accumulation of whiteness that had been falling since yesterday afternoon. As I watched the old man, his face broke into a smile and he began talking to the birds. I shook my head in silent sympathy and reached for the door handle.
The twenty-six-mile trip from home to office had consumed more than three hours, half a tank of gas, and nearly all of my patience. My faithful 240-Z, its transmission whining a constant and monotonous complaint in low gear, had run a broken-field course past countless stalled trucks and cars along Willow Road, down Edens Expressway, along Touhy Avenue, across Ridge, east on Devon and past the Broadway intersection to the parking lot on Winthrop Street.
It had been insanity on my part to even make the attempt to get to work that morning. But for the previous three weeks I had been touring the United States promoting my book, The Greatest Salesman In The World, and after I had told forty-nine radio and television audiences, plus more than two dozen newspaper reporters, that perseverance was one of the most important secrets of success, I didn’t dare let myself be defeated even by that angry witch Mother Nature.
Furthermore, there was a board of directors meeting scheduled for the coming Friday. As Success Unlimited Magazine’s president, I needed this Monday, and every other day this week, to review our past year’s performance and next year’s projections with each department head. I wanted to be prepared, as I always had been, for any unexpected questions that might be tossed my way once I was on my feet at the head of that long boardroom table.
The parking lot, situated as it was in the midst of a decaying neighborhood, changed its character twice each twenty-four hours. During the evening and nighttime hours it was occupied by vehicles that would have been sold for junk by any self-respecting used-car dealer. These were the cars owned by local apartment dwellers who had been unable to find a parking spot on the narrow street that bisected their soot-streaked buildings. Then, each morning, they all departed in a mass exodus to local and suburban factories and the lot replenished itself with a collection of Mercedes, Cadillacs, Corvettes, and BMW’s as attorneys, doctors, and the Loyola University students came into the city from the suburban world to do their thing.
At any other time of the year the lot was a scabby blemish, a back-of-the-hand slap to every resident of the area. In all the years I had parked there I had yet to see its downtown owners make any attempt to remove the litter, soggy newspapers, tin cans and empty wine bottles that accumulated in their own little mountains of disease against the rusty chain link fencing. The only thing the lot had going for it was that there was no other available public parking for ten blocks.
Today, however, with all the lot’s sins buried under nearly three feet of snow, it reminded me of a stretch of California’s Pacific Grove beach, even to its white mounds which only yesterday had been automobiles. Apparently there had been no exits by the locals this morning. They had probably taken one look at their buried machines, now igloos, and either bussed it or gone back to bed.
Entrance to the parking lot was through two posts, buried in concrete, set approximately nine feet apart, upon which rested a large hollow-iron-bar gate. To raise the gate, to get into the lot and park, you deposited two quarters in the slot of a chipped white metal box, waited for the gate to rise after it was tripped electronically by the coins, and then drove through. Then the car wheels depressed some sort of mechanism in the asphalt, automatically lowering the gate behind you. To leave the lot you needed two more quarters to bail yourself out … unless you had a special key which you could rent for twenty dollars a month. Keys were inserted into a special yellow box to activate the gate, both entering and leaving.
After turning my attention from the bird-feeding Samaritan, I found my gate-key in the glove compartment, pushed against the accumulated snow which was considerably higher than the bottom of my car door, and stepped gingerly outside. Immediately I became aware of the incompetency of a grown man dumb enough to wear low-cut rubbers on a day like this.
The old man ceased his feeding operation long enough to glance my way and wave. The dog barked once and then was silenced by some unintelligible words from his master. I nodded toward him and forced a weary smile. My “good morning” sounded strange and muffled in the noise-deadening snowfall.
His response, in the deepest voice I had ever heard, seemed to reverberate off the surrounding buildings. Once, when Danny Thomas met radio commentator Paul Harvey, Danny had said, “You had better be God because you sure sound like Him.” This voice made my friend Paul sound like a timid choir boy.
“I bid you greetings on this beautiful day!”
I had neither the strength nor the desire to dispute his words. I turned my key in the yellow box until I heard the mechanism activate, then half sliding, half walking, I returned to my car. Behind me, as I had heard it respond for several thousand mornings, the gate creaked as it raised itself for my entrance.
But … no sooner was I back in my car, ready to shift into “drive” and ease my way through the deep snow into the lot, then the gate crashed back down to its original horizontal position with a loud metallic clang.
I sighed in frustration, shifted back into “park,” reopened the car door, stepped back into the cold snow, slid up to the yellow box, and turned my key again. The gate rose once more, pointed its rusted tip toward the snow-filled heavens, and then fell back. Bong! Impatiently I turned the key again, almost hard enough to snap it this time. Same thing. A short in the wiring, perhaps, from all this moisture? No matter. There was no way I was going to get my car into that parking lot. And if I left it on the street it was certain to be towed away. I just stood there, knee deep in snow, cursing the idiocy of this aborted journey while I rubbed snowflakes out of my eyes.
Just as I was beginning to doubt everything I had ever written or said about the value of perseverance the bird-feeding stranger interrupted my self-pity. “Let me help you.”
That voice was truly something and there was a hint of command as well as an offer of aid in the resonant tone. He had moved close to me and I found myself looking up into an amazing face, gaunt, heavily lined, set with large brown eyes. He had to be nearly seven feet tall because I’m no pygmy. I smiled and shrugged my shoulders at this Abraham Lincoln look alike and said, “Thanks, but I don’t think there’s much we can do.”
The deep furrows around his eyes and mouth arched into the warmest and most gentle smile I had ever seen on a human as he gestured toward the recalcitrant gate. “It will not be difficult. Turn your key in the box again. When the gate rises I shall step under it, grasp it with my outstretched hands, and hold it until your car passes through. Then I’ll let it fall.”
“That’s a heavy gate.”
His laugh boomed through the lot. “I am old but I am quite strong. And most certainly it is worth our efforts to relieve you of your problem. Carlyle wrote that every noble work seems at first impossible.”
- Item Weight : 2.4 ounces
- Mass Market Paperback : 108 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0553279726
- ISBN-13 : 978-0553279726
- Dimensions : 4.2 x 0.3 x 6.85 inches
- Publisher : Bantam; Reissue edition (January 1, 1983)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #27,132 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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my message! She said she had misdialed and quickly hung up! She said, "you know me...I don't believe in coincidences!" We chit chatted about life. Her children are grown. She owns her own counseling business. My divorce. I hung up and thought about the book. I knew God was sending me a message to go read the book. I brought few items with me when I moved and my ex refused to give me the rest of my belongings. No way would I have that book after 13 years. I opened up a little bookcase that held mostly cookbooks and there it was...that little blue book, The Greatest Miracle in the World. I opened it up and read it. I remember why I creased the page. I remembered why I couldn't finish it. This time I finished it. This time I'm doing what the book says to do. I'm sleeping at night. I'm waking up in a better mood. I have hope. I'm searching for a new place in a new town. I'm starting to live. Buy the book. Don't crease the page. Finish it.
I put off reading the book for a month and then finally read it one weekend that he was on a trip. Let me just say, he was right, it’s life changing. Because of this book I colored my hair pink and pierced my nose. Both things I’ve always wanted to do, but was too afraid and self conscious to do. I’m now thinking and planning bigger dreams and trying to live my life to the up most.
I highly recommend this book. I’m going to order a second copy for my sister right after this review