A few weeks ago, I was asked to give a talk about my book at an event celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the House of Hope in Stuart, Florida. The House of Hope provides basic human needs like food and shelter to people in crisis in Martin County, Florida. CEO Elizabeth Barbella told me how it started 30 years ago with one truck handing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to hungry, homeless people on the street. It survives today with a philosophy of first giving people a helping hand and then to enabling them to help themselves.
Perhaps the people at House of Hope were seeking inspiration from me, but I felt inspired to know that something in my book had caused such selfless people to reach out to me. As I told them, when you write something appealing to the best in people, you end up connecting to the best people.
Maybe because one tires of always discussing oneself, recently I have not been focusing my remarks so much on my own book as on a book I found in the course of my thank-you note journey, Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal, by Lloyd C. Douglas.
Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal has been out of print so long that it is no longer a book you find in a bookstore. That is, if you can find a bookstore.
Do you ever feel that a book has been placed in your path at just the precise moment when you were supposed to find it?
I discovered Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal while waiting in the lobby of the doctor who once told me to stop drinking when I really needed to be told to stop drinking. On the coffee table in her waiting room, I saw a battered paperback discarded amongst the People magazines on the table, its cover torn, its pages umber with age. I checked the publication date: 1939. When I’m waiting in a doctor’s office, I’ll read anything.
I caught right away that this remnant book made an astoundingly broad promise only possible in a 1930s self-help novel or a 1990s self actualization infomercial, or in one of those breathless internet ads that divert you to an interminable PowerPoint presentation that never gets to the point. Its first pages describe a struggling, Dr. Wayne Hudson whose young wife has just died leaving a baby daughter in his care. When trying to obtain a stone to mark his wife’s grave, he meets a strange sculptor who claims to have the answer to everything. As well as the secret to absolute power. Throw in the secret to getting everything you want in the world.
“Doctor, do you have Victory?”
“Victory over what?” demands the young doctor.
“Oh – over anything – everything!”
The doctor is intrigued, especially when the sculptor promises him that he can be the “best doctor in town.”
Eventually, I surmised, the earnest young doctor would learn the secret and use it to become a beloved brain surgeon. Sitting there in my doctor’s lobby, I determined this was a book I absolutely wanted to read. Like anyone else, I could use the secret to getting everything I wanted. In fact, at that time I needed the secret to anything. So I brought the corrupted paperback in with me to my appointment, and asked the receptionist about it.
“I don’t know where it came from,” she told me. “Someone just left it there.” She let me take it.
At the time, I was living through the year in which I received an inspiration to express gratitude. I decided there would be no coincidences that year. This book was meant for me.
Taking the book home to read, I learned that Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal was a prequel, written after the fact as a complement to Douglas’ more famous novel, Magnificent Obsession. Magnificent Obsession was a major best seller during the Great Depression. It is still in print, and can be readily obtained in a good bookstore. If you can find a good bookstore. It was eventually made into two movies, most notably a 1954 re-make starring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, and directed by Douglas Sirk. There is also a 1950′s television series in which John Howard puffs on his pipe while dispensing Dr. Hudson’s wisdom to numerous other doctors who puff on their cigarettes and nod knowingly. The producers of the series made 78 episodes, and some can be viewed on the Internet. Though enjoyable, these celluloid manifestations of Douglas’ work focus less on the message of the books and more on the melodrama the author intended to demonstrate his message.
Magnificent Obsession tells the story of Robert Merrick, a young playboy played, as you can imagine, by Rock Hudson. Merrick is saved from drowning through use of a scarce “inhalator” machine when he is knocked out of his sailboat after an improvident drunken tack on one of Michigan’s many beautiful lakes. (Apparently in those days, resuscitation was not attempted except by use of these inhalator machines.) While Merrick is being saved, Doctor Wayne Hudson, an eminent neurosurgeon beloved by all, dies across the lake for want of the “inhalator.”
Wanting to learn more about the man whose life was sacrificed for his feckless existence, young Merrick inquires of Dr. Hudson’s loyal nurse sidekick. She gives him a strange indecipherable notebook that is, in fact, Dr. Hudson’s secret journal. It is written in a convoluted code that seems like a strange Latinate language. For example, it opens with the words “Rar Isodren fin u Edren.”
Merrick intrepidly deciphers the secret code to find the story of young Dr. Hudson’s encounter with the sculptor who told him the secret to success in life. As I expected, young Dr. Hudson learns the mysterious power over everything that eventually inspired him to develop innovative techniques and become a famous neurosurgeon. Merrick decides to carry on Dr. Hudson’s legacy.
The “Secret to Power over Everything” turns out to be written on a single piece of paper the sculptor has torn from the Bible. The sculptor gives this torn piece of the Bible to young Hudson only after Hudson tells him he wants it “More – than – I – have – ever – wanted – to – know – anything – before!” You can read every word Magnificent Obsession and not find out which page of the Bible contains the secret. After Magnificent Obsession came out, Lloyd Douglas’s readers insisted he write out the entire journal of Dr. Hudson as a novel in its own right. Eventually he did, resulting in the publication of Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal in 1939. Some of Douglas’s readers were doubtlessly thinking the full Secret Journal would direct them to the secret Bible verse. So I must warn you that you can read every word of both novels, as I did, and still not know which page of the Bible contains the “Secret to Victory Over Everything.” As a former preacher, Douglas was not greatly troubled by this omission. Rather, he felt fulfilled by sending his readers on a “treasure hunt” through the Bible. Today, though, we live in a culture more demanding of immediate answers. With a little research on the Internet, anyone can figure out the majority opinion regarding the verses of the Bible to which Dr. Hudson’s sculptor referred. Or you could read my book. As a former lawyer, I insist on citations, and the citation is in my book’s only footnote.
If you are like me, just finding the verses of the Bible will not permit a complete understanding of Dr. Hudson’s secret methods. As Dr. Hudson described his interpretation of these 20 lines of the Bible, they amount to rules, a formula. As Randolph, the mysterious scholar exclaims to the young Dr. Hudson:
“All you have to do is follow the rules! There is a formula, you know.”
You can read the books, which I highly recommend, and deduce the formula yourself. There is also a brief summary in my own book. Or wait for my next blog. In about a week.
(Next week: Dr. Hudson’s Rules.)