|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
THE ONLY CALENDAR I NEED IS JUST OUTSIDE MY WINDOW. Maple leaves, in the trees on my hill, have now turned pallid and brittle, their lush reds and golds drained by the brutish frosts of the past week.
“Do your work well and then be ready to depart when God shall call,” wrote a great nineteenth-century wise man, Tyron Edwards. Both his words and the analogy of the leaf completing its life cycle weigh heavily on my mind as I sit alone, here in my studio, and pray for the strength to cope with my terrible secret.
Within ninety days I expect to be dead.
I am writing this narrative as swiftly as I can because, in truth, I have no idea how much time, how much living, remains for me. Will I make it to Thanksgiving? Maybe. To Christmas? Very doubtful. But for a certainty the inevitable snow that will soon cover every fallen leaf will also blanket my grave before the new year has counted many days.
Am I being ravaged by some malignant disease? No. Only four months ago, after my annual checkup, Dr. Scagno assured me that all systems were “go” and that I inhabited one of the healthiest forty-two-year-old bodies he had examined in a long time.
Am I planning to take my own life? God forbid. If ever a man had everything to live for, that person is me.
So why this terrible sense of impending doom, this certainty of a deadline (such an apt word) on my life that has triggered this hasty recital on the typewriter. After all, who among us has any guarantee that he or she will even see tomorrow’s sunrise? Perhaps by the time you finish reading these words you will understand.
Hopefully, by the time I complete these brief memoirs, if I finish, I, too, will have a much better perspective of all that has happened to me since that memorable morning, more than six years ago, when I suddenly changed the direction of my life. The decision was mine and mine alone, you must understand, and even with my days now limited, I would do it all again if life had such a thing as reruns.
Every day all of us make hundreds of choices, most of them so menial and habitual that they are almost as automatic as breathing. What we have for breakfast, the clothes we wear, the route we take to work, the bills we pay or lay aside, the television programs we watch, the functions of our job, the manner in which we greet friend or foe, none of these is memorable beyond the hour.
But there are other choices we must make from time to time, decisions that we can later look back on from any age plateau and recall with bitter sadness or triumphant joy depending on how they affected the years that followed. Rarely are these momentous turning points in life ever planned or expected. How can they be when the vast majority of humans wander along the pathway of years without any destination or goal or even a road map.
Since so many don’t know where they are, or where they’re going, they are always struggling merely to survive, always on the razor’s edge of disaster, forever on the defensive. When one must live that way, one’s options are limited.
Not me! Not Mark Christopher, Treasury Insurance Company’s youngest resident vice-president, responsible for eighty-four branch offices throughout New England and the sales production of more than seven hundred salesmen, saleswomen, and sales managers. Not Mark Christopher who was also an adjunct assistant professor at Northeastern University, teaching classes one night a week, whenever I was not traveling, on Salesmanship.
Truly, my future was unlimited. If my region continued to lead the company in sales volume, as it had for four straight years, a promotion to the home office in Chicago was inevitable. I can still remember the glowing letter of praise I received from J. Milton Hadley, founder and still president of Treasury Insurance, after he had read the flattering profile piece on me that had appeared in The Boston Globe. In that lengthy and illustrated article the writer had tagged me with a nickname that I’ve lived with ever since—“Mr. Success.”
Whenever I delivered a speech at any of our sales conventions, I was always quoting passages from books by the greatest self-help writers and exponents of success. And for Christmas, as well as birthdays, every person in every branch office under my supervision could count on receiving an inspirational or success book from me that I was certain would help his or her career—books by people such as Napoleon Hill, Franklin Bettger, Dorothea Brande, Maxwell Maltz, W. Clement Stone, and Norman Vincent Peale. “Mr. Success” was an appropriate handle, I thought, for someone who knew exactly what his goals were and where to find the answers on how to achieve them.
And then, on a morning I shall never forget, I began a new life. It had been like hundreds of other predawn Sundays stretching back through the years. At the first noisy eruption from my alarm clock I awoke and quickly flipped the off button before it disturbed Louise. I slipped quietly from bed and walked to the window. A rain storm promised on last night’s television news had not materialized. The stars were still out, and a thin quarter moon was only now wearily retreating down behind the trees. This was going to be a perfect summer day, New England at its best.
I showered, shaved, and dressed in my favorite golf outfit, the Arnold Palmer shirt with matching beige slacks that had set me back ninety bucks at the pro shop, and tip-toed downstairs to the kitchen.
While the water was heating for my cup of instant coffee I went out into the garage, touched the button on our electric garage door opener, stepped carefully between the bicycles and two automobiles, and hauled my golf clubs out onto the driveway. Usually they were stored in my locker at the country club, but I had just returned, on Thursday, from a life underwriter’s gathering in Bermuda and had managed to get in a little golf at the course adjoining our hotel, the Southampton Princess. Now, when the guys came by I’d be ready. Tee-off time for us at the club, as it had been every Sunday for years, was seven sharp.
I downed my orange juice and my two One-a-Day vitamin pills and sat with my coffee and doughnut. I had at least twenty minutes before I would hear the single toot from the station wagon carrying the rest of the foursome.
As I sipped my coffee I watched a flock of robins careening recklessly around a large maple tree in the corner of our backyard. Occasionally, on some mysterious signal, they would all halt their race and settle on the lowest bough of the tree, each tiny bird equidistant from the next, each respecting the other’s territory, something we humans have forgotten how to do. At rest or in flight, however, their raucous chirpings combined to produce a din, in the stillness of the morning, that would have done credit to any low-budget horror movie.
Then I heard something else—the sound of bare feet in the upstairs hallway. The kitchen clock read 6:15, Who was up? Soon I heard a second set of feet. Could both boys be having bathroom call at the same time? Possible.
My mind returned to the match coming up. I had played terribly last week, but today was going to be different. I was positive. I had straightened out that wild hook of mine in Bermuda, and now I was ready. I let my body relax and began practicing the art of “picturization” that I had learned from so many of the masters of success, through their books. Simple technique. You merely picture in your mind having already accomplished or attained your goal, whatever it may be. Hold it firmly in your thoughts, picture it as already being yours, and amazing things will happen. That simple process, through the years, has paid off for me on much more important objectives than correcting a golf “swing.
I was still mentally working on my drives, my back to the hall that leads from the upstairs stairway, so I didn’t see them when they came up behind me. But I heard them, my two sons. In unison they said, “Happy Father’s Day, Dad!” Then I was embraced as only a twelve-year-old and a six-year-old can manhandle you, and each kissed my cheek.
Todd, my youngest, was holding a white envelope on which he had written, “Dad.” He handed it to me with all the pride he usually reserved for an “A” school paper. I opened the envelope and carefully removed the card, which read, “To the Greatest Father in the World.” It was signed with the same large and undisciplined scrawl, “love, Todd.”
Then my twelve-year-old, obviously feeling a little too grown-up for such sentimental foolishness, handed me his envelope. His card was exactly like Todd’s—“To the Greatest Father in the World.” Todd, before his older brother could shush him, said, “We bought them with our own money, Dad!”
I hugged and kissed them both, telling them how thoughtful they had been to remember. After a few minutes of small talk, Todd yawned, and I suggested that they both get back to bed since it was very early. They wouldn’t even consider it. They had planned to see me before I left for the course and now that they were up they were going to remain up. Soon they were at the table, giggling and devouring large helpings of the latest obscenely colored, vitamin-enriched cereal.