The Greatest Spiritual Secret of the Centuryby Thom Hartmann
When Paul Abler, a young newspaper reporter, risks his own life to save that of a little girl, he begins an adventure unlike any he could imagine. Down in the echoing tunnels underneath Manhattan, where the homeless hide from the police, he meets a strange man who gives him one amazing insight after another. Paul's life undergoes vast changes as he experiences,… See more details below
When Paul Abler, a young newspaper reporter, risks his own life to save that of a little girl, he begins an adventure unlike any he could imagine. Down in the echoing tunnels underneath Manhattan, where the homeless hide from the police, he meets a strange man who gives him one amazing insight after another. Paul's life undergoes vast changes as he experiences, for himself, the timeless moment of the universe's creation, the joyful surprise of finding true love, and an extraordinary truth that completely alters his life--and could change yours forever . . .
The bestselling author of The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight explores the deep mysteries that have stirred the human soul since the beginning of time. In this modern-day parable, spirit guides take Paul Abler on a compelling adventure where he discovers, and experiences, the greatest spiritual secret. Paul's voyage is a journey that all of us would like to take, and provides answers each of us has hoped to find.
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The Greatest Spiritual Secret of the Century
By Thom Hartmann
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.Copyright © 2000 Thom Hartmann
All rights reserved.
Fear of Flying
Even the word sounded ugly, as if you'd been put in front of a firing squad and shot.
May as well have been, Paul Abler thought as he stuffed his hands into the pockets of his black greatcoat and hurried down Madison Avenue. The noises and smells of New York drifted by him as if they didn't exist, he was so absorbed in the memory of ten minutes earlier, in a skyscraper fifty floors above the street, the Managing Editor's corner office of one of the city's daily tabloid newspapers. The office that he'd planned to occupy within five years.
A sharp rectangle of light drew his attention to a storefront window, where he caught a glimpse of himself. At almost six feet tall, he reached the end of the reflection. His dark, almost black hair just touched his collar, with a few rebellious hairs curling over it. His deep brown eyes pierced the glow, adding an intensity that more than a few fellow workers had recently commented on. He was glad he'd decided to walk a couple of miles each day. It gave him a firmness that felt natural, rather than the bulging muscles that some of his co-workers had worked so hard at producing in all the so-called "right" places.
Although the phrase used was "laid off," Paul–in the interests of journalistic integrity and knowing what it meant for his career–preferred to use and think of it as what it was: fired.
Paul had stood opposite the massive, paper-strewn desk of Mack Kessler, managing editor of The New York Daily Tribune. Another desk, perpendicular to the first, held the computers that linked the M.E. into the newspaper's intranet. Mack liked to pretend he lived in the days when newspapers were about news and editors smoked cigars and snarled a lot. In fact, he was a tall, Yale-educated, 36-year-old yuppie who wore two-hundred-dollar ties, surfed the 'net, and worked out three days a week at The Reebok Sports Club, where the membership cost more than Paul's last car.
Still, Mack was older than Paul's 29 years. Paul had finished his M.A. in journalism five years earlier, spent a year in the "intern" slave-labor camps, a year as an editorial assistant, two years ago got a job as a real reporter for a real local daily newspaper in upstate New York, and eleven months ago landed this position in the Big Apple at the Tribune. Finally, a reporter for a New York City newspaper. Maybe in another few years–if he could break some really big stories-he could even get a job with the Times. He'd planned a great future in journalism, and he'd kept on track.
So there stood Mack, who loved to give speeches about how important investigative journalism is to a free society, telling Paul that he's been laid off, along with fourteen other employees.
"This is really because I offended an advertiser," Paul had said.
"No, Paul," Mack had said, back in his office after the brief meeting in the conference room where Paul and the other fourteen people had been summoned. Paul was the only reporter in the bunch; the rest were all support staff or in administration. "This is because the owners of the newspaper think we can operate more efficiently with a leaner staff."
"More profitably, you mean."
"I'm sure the stockholders would applaud that, as would the American public. This is not a scandal, Paul. Layoffs happen every day of the week, all across the world."
"But we both know there are other reporters here who are not as competent as I am," Paul said. "I was picked because of the London story."
"Actually," Mack said, his fingers nervously tapping the top of his desk as if he was planning to bolt from the room at any moment, "I think it's because some of the others here think you're too hungry. The London story was just a symptom. You're driven, Paul. Success at any cost, win that Pulitzer next week. I think you've scared the wits out of some of the people above me. You've also made enemies of your fellow reporters. They think you're a rogue, a cowboy."
Paul leaned forward and, his voice fluid with acid, said, "You're saying I'm canned because I'm too good?"
"Too driven, Paul. You work fifteen hours a day, seven days a week. You pour everything you have into your work, and there's nothing left over for you or anybody else. Speaking as a friend, I don't think it's healthy."
Paul shook his head, knowing Mack was no friend and never would be. "Too good. I work too hard, and that scares the ones who just want to get by." Like Mack, Paul thought. He knows I'd have his job in a year or two if I played it right.
"Of course, I'd deny it," Mack said, "but everybody knows anyway. Layoffs are opportunities for people to settle political scores and consolidate their empires. You frightened my boss, the way you charged into that London story without even consulting anybody." His tone softened. "I'm just sorry you weren't here long enough to earn a severance package. But I guess it's better for the company this way. We'll pay you through the end of the week, although you have to clean out your desk and leave now."
"This isn't right," Paul had said, but he knew as he said it that Mack wasn't interested–the transnational corporation that owned the Tribune wasn't interested–in the story he'd uncovered about a London company that was bribing New York politicians to get tax breaks and government business. A London company with a division that advertised heavily in the New York newspapers. And, he'd discovered, the Tribune wouldn't defend him for the furor he'd stirred up just investigating the yet-unpublished story. If anything, Mack had pointed out, it reflected poorly on the paper; newspapers don't take on the corporate big guys if they want to survive in the business. They haven't in at least two decades. Reporters shouldn't poke into comers without the lawyers and corporate owners first telling them it's safe territory. And they should never upstage their own editors.
Mack reached over to the bowl full of different-colored Bic lighters that sat on his desk. He smoked, and was constantly losing lighters, so he kept a good supply. He picked up a red one and tossed it to Paul by way of ending the conversation. "Here, kid. Set the world on fire. And turn in your ID to Cynthia at the front desk on the way out."
And so Paul Abler, unemployed and alone, marched through the cold February streets of Manhattan, the wind whipping dust and auto exhaust through his thick brown hair. The sky was a low, gray boil of clouds, threatening snow as the temperature hovered one or two degrees below the freezing point.
I've got about two weeks to find something, Paul thought, glancing down at the overcoat that had set him back eighteen hundred dollars at Saks Fifth Avenue.
When he got the job with the Tribune, he'd immediately gone out and spent almost four thousand dollars on clothes. He soon discovered that the jeans and white shirt he was currently wearing were al he needed, but still, he'd told himself, he needed to be ready to be well dressed. And, truth be told, he had used the two suits he bought to good advantage when he'd been investigating the London company's shady dealings. The clothes got him taken seriously by secretaries and underlings, and even convinced one guy he "might" be a senior assistant to one of New York's senators.
But they cost a fortune, relatively, and he'd gone a month late on his rent to pay for them, and that added to the cost of lunches and taxis. Before he knew it he'd pushed his credit cards to the point where he couldn't get any more cash advances on them, and was now two months behind on his rent. The pay-now-or-we'll-evict-you notice had been stuck under his door three days ago.
Fired, broke, and in debt. A week, maybe two, to come up with his back rent, or he'd be on the streets. And no job reference; who in journalism would hire somebody fired by the Tribune? If he couldn't make it in a mid-level tabloid, his chances with the Times or The Washington Post were shot. His professors had lied to him; they hadn't worked in the business for years; most probably had never left the comfortable world of Academe. A reporter's first commitment isn't to the truth, or to his readers, or to the public good; it's to the corporations who pay the bills. Unless there's a war–which is profitable to the defense contractors, which include the owners of some of the nation's largest news outlets—a reporter no longer has any chance to break a really big story because so much is now off-limits. Why hadn't they just told him that when he was a freshman, so he could get out and go into something where people were honest about climbing and making money, like a stock brokerage? Instead, he'd bought the myth of Woodward and Bernstein, the lie that said if you work hard and tell the truth, damn the consequences, no matter how it shakes up the world, you'll come out rich and famous in the end.
He saw a pay phone just before the next corner and stopped at it, dropped in the right change, and dialed Susan's direct number at work. They'd been dating on a pretty regular basis for about eight months, and in the past few months Paul had slept over at her apartment, or her at his, most weekends. He took that as a good sign that she was serious about the relationship, although she disliked discussing–or "overanalyzing," as she called it–their future.
"Susan Gordon," she answered, in that business-like tone that told the caller he'd reached an advertising copywriter at one of the largest advertising agencies in the world. Big-shot-by-association was what Paul had called it once, offending Susan to the point where he'd had to spend two days apologizing. She finally forgave him when he sent flowers to her office.
"Hi, Susan," Paul said. "How's your day?"
"It sucks, like usual," she said in a tired voice. "Sometimes I think everybody in the cosmetics industry is insane. They all have delusions of grandeur."
"The perfume campaign giving you fits?"
"You wouldn't believe," she said. "I hear traffic. Are you calling from the street?"
"Yeah," Paul said. "I'm on Madison, just north of forty-fourth. I had a bit of a falling-out with Mack."
"A falling out?" There was a subtle but unmistakable shift in her tone, an implied disapproval.
"He said I was working too hard and had made some enemies. He tried to say it was just a corporate down size, then said it was because of that London story. I think what it's really about, though, is that he thinks I was after his job. If I could have gotten that story into print, I would have been the hottest reporter in New York in the past two years."
"And?" She drew it out.
"And so I kept working on it, on my own time, and he fired me."
"Well, I suppose I could say that I was laid off, but the truth is they fired me. I don't suppose it makes much difference."
"It makes all the difference in the world, Paul," she said, her voice soft as if she were talking to a child.
"I'll find something else," he said.
"Is this going to be the pattern of your life?" she said. "Holding a job for a year and then getting canned?"
"No, really, this was a serious issue. No editor should be willing to compromise ..."
"Paul, this is the real world!" Her voice was thick and low. "It's business. It's all about compromise. Work your butt off if you want, climb as high as you can, I know how important that is to you. But don't embarrass the wrong people."
"No, it's about journalism, not business. It's an entirely different thing."
"What, you think newspapers are in the truth business? Is that how they stay in business? Paul, I think your ambition has blinded you to the fact that it's the advertisers who are paying your salary. You're in such a hurry to make it to the top that you're losing perspective. These aren't the old days. The corporations have taken over."
An ambulance with its siren on snaked its way up Madison Avenue, and he put his hand over his left ear so he could hear the phone. "I think I was just working too hard, doing too much. I was a threat to the other reporters, even to Mack, because I was showing them up as lazy ..."
"Paul!" Her voice rose over the sound of the siren, and Paul felt his heart sink. "Listen to you!" she shouted. "Maybe they want to have a life, but you're willing to throw everything over the edge just to be the next Bob Woodward."
"Maybe I can get a job with one of the news magazines ..."
"And maybe they'll have no interest whatsoever in hiring somebody who doesn't understand the realities of teamwork and cooperation in the twenty-first century corporate world. You know what they call workaholics in the business world?"
"Powerful and wealthy is what I'd call them ..." He felt like he was talking to a stranger, the change in her tone had been so rapid.
"Alone, that's what," she said, her tone cutting. She took a deep and loud breath. "Paul, you don't have to end up all alone at the top. You're incredibly talented. But you've got to slow down and learn to play on a team."
"But a team doesn't win a Pulitzer, a reporter does ..."
The ambulance faded into the distance, and her voice was again clear and crisp through the cold black plastic he held to his ear. "I know." Her tone softened. "And I understand how important that is to you."
"Would you like to get together tonight?"
There was a pause, and he could hear her breathe. Then she said, "I have a pile of work I have to take home tonight, Paul. I'm sorry."
"Tomorrow is Friday, and I have a date with a girlfriend to see a show that's playing off-Broadway. Her sister is in it."
"It's really not gonna be a good weekend for me," she said.
"I understand," he said, his vision blurring in the cold wind on his face. "I'll call you next week."
"You do that," she said. "And have a great weekend." Her voice had a forced perkiness to it.
The line clicked; his coins dropped into the bowels of the phone, and a dial tone filled his ear. Paul looked at the receiver as if seeing it for the first time, his stomach feeling like he'd been punched, and slowly hung up the phone. "Good bye to you, too," he said softly, as the receiver fell into the cradle.
He turned and stepped back into the flow of people on the busy afternoon street. She was only a friend, he said over and over in his mind. And then, It was just a casual relationship, even though I'd hoped for more. She couldn't have helped my career, and wasn't really interested in my future. She has her own career to worry about.
A block down, along Madison Avenue between 43rd and 42nd streets, he started to walk by a large bear of a man with neatly-cut black hair and a thick black beard, wearing a red-and-black plaid winter hunting coat and green army pants stuffed into tall black boots. The man stepped in front of him and abruptly established eye contact. Instinctively, Paul started to look away—eye contact in Manhattan can be dangerous, a lesson he'd learned well in his three years living there—but the man grabbed his right arm at the bicep and said in a loud voice, "Are you going to heaven, brother?"
"What?" Paul said, compounding his eye-contact mistake by violating Manhattan's unspoken, never-respond-to-them rule. He immediately realized his mistake and tried to pull his arm from the man's grip.
But the man held him tightly, the bond forged by Paul's response, and said, "I mean are you saved? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?"
Paul felt a return flush of the resentment and bellicosity he'd experienced just ten minutes earlier in Mack's office. Who the hell did Mack think he was, telling Paul that a reporter shouldn't report the news if it made a big company uncomfortable? And who the hell did this guy think he was asking if Paul was "saved"?
"Is that what I have to do to get into heaven?" Paul said to the guy, his voice trembling with outrage, as if the man were a stand-in for the hypocritical Mack who'd just shattered his life.
"Accept, believe, be forgiven, and repent!" the man proclaimed, raising the index finger of his free right hand in the air. "And you'll spend eternity in heaven!"
"Lemme get this straight," Paul said. "If I do these things, then I go to heaven when I die?"
"Right! An eternal paradise!"
Excerpted from The Greatest Spiritual Secret of the Century by Thom Hartmann. Copyright © 2000 Thom Hartmann. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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