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"please get off the floor and sit in this chair."
Slowly, David opened his eyes and looked directly into the face of a man who seemed vaguely familiar. A small, older gentleman, his short almost-white hair was neatly combed, contrasting with the slightly disheveled appearance of his clothes. The sleeves of his dress shirt were rolled up at the elbows, and his red-and-black-striped tie was loosened at the collar. Atop his sharp nose sat a pair of round spectacles that were thick enough to make his clear blue eyes seem huge.
"This is a very inconvenient time for me," the man said. "Just sit right there and be very quiet." Turning quickly, he walked toward a huge hand-carved desk. Settling himself behind it and picking up a stack of papers, he grumbled, "As if I don't have enough happening right now."
Confused, David glanced around. He was sitting on a large Persian rug, his back against the wall of an ornate, high-ceilinged room. Directly to his left was the hard-backed mahogany chair that had been indicated by the man who was now intently sorting papers across the room. To his right, a globe stood on a pedestal in front of an unlit fireplace.
Easing up and into the chair, David said, "I'm thirsty."
Without looking up, the man replied, "I'll get you something in a bit. For now, please be quiet."
"Where am I?" David asked.
"Look here now." The man cursed as he slammed the stack of papers down on the desk and pointed a finger at David. "I politely asked you to be quiet, and I'm expecting you to do it. You are in Potsdam, Germany, a suburb of Berlin in a free zone presently controlled by the Red army. It is Tuesday, July 24, 1945." Taking a deep breath and appearing to calm down, he reached for his work again.
Separating the papers, he said, "There now, sit and chew on that for a while."
David wrinkled his brow. I must be in a hospital, he thought. This is a creepy old place. And if this guy is my doctor, he has a horrible bedside manner. Sitting absolutely still, trying to collect himself, David watched the man at the desk. Why would he tell me I'm in Germany? he wondered. And the Red army thing? I must have a head injury. Is this some kind of psychiatric exam?
He tugged at the collar of his dark blue sweatshirt. Uncomfortably warm, David noticed a water pitcher and some glasses on a small table near a window directly across the room. He stood up and walked slowly to the water. From the corner of his eye, David saw the man behind the desk briefly glance up, frown, and go back to his work.
David quietly poured a glass of water and, drinking it, looked out the window. He was obviously in a second-floor room of this building or house or whatever it was. Below him, no more than fifty feet away, was the bank of a slow-moving river. There were no people boating, no children playing-in fact, he didn't see anyone at all. "Something isn't right here," David muttered as a breeze crossed his face and rustled the drapes beside him.
Reaching his arm through the open window, David was almost startled to find that the air was warm and humid. Then he realized what had been bothering him. It was the air itself. The air was warm. Every tree within sight was full of leaves, and the grass in the yard below him was green. In the dead of winter?
Putting his glass down on the table, David placed his hands on the windowsill and pushed his whole upper body through the opening. Yes, it was hot, he decided, and pulled himself back inside. What kind of place is this? David wondered. Why are the windows open in the first place? As hot as it is, the air conditioning should be running full blast.
As he moved back toward his seat, David looked around for a thermostat. There wasn't one that he could see. The only temperature-controlling device was an old heater that someone had put in the fireplace. Not that that heater would do anyone any good, he thought. It's so old, it looks like it could have been made in . . . , David stopped in midstride. In a soft voice, he said aloud, ". . . 1945."
Wheeling suddenly, David faced the man behind the desk. The white-haired gentleman looked up and slowly pushed his work to the side. A slight smile on his thin lips, he leaned back into his chair, crossed his arms, and peered curiously at David.
David's mind raced furiously. Potsdam . . . Potsdam . . . , he thought. Why is that name so familiar? Then, like a thunderbolt, it came to him. Potsdam, Germany, he remembered from a television documentary, was the site of the famous war conference after which the decision had been made to drop the atomic bomb on Japan during World War II.
A shudder passed through his body as David put his hands to his head. Think, think, he commanded himself. Who attended the war conference in Potsdam? It was Churchill, Stalin, and . . . All the breath seemed to go out of David at once as he groped for the chair behind him. Sitting down heavily, he stared at the man in front of him. "You're Harry Truman," he said in a shocked tone.
"Yes," the man said, "I am. Though at the moment I would give anything to be almost anyone else."
Swallowing audibly, David said, "They call you 'Give Em Hell Harry.'"
Truman grimaced. "I never give anybody hell," he snorted. "I just tell the truth, and they think it's hell."
Removing his glasses, he rubbed his eyes and said, "Obviously, I'll not be getting any peace from this point on, so we might as well go ahead and talk." Putting his glasses back on, he rose and came out from behind the desk. "By the way," he said, "why not you?"
"Excuse me?" David asked.
"Why . . . not . . . you?" Looking directly into David's eyes, he enunciated the words carefully, separating them as if he were speaking to a child. "I believe that is the answer to the last question you asked before you arrived."
David frowned. Trying to remember, he said, "I was in an accident, I think."
"Yes," Truman said, "that's sometimes how this happens. And the last question a person asks is often, 'Why me?' Of course, 'Why me?' is a question great men and women have been asking themselves since time began. I know the thought has occurred to me more than once during the past few days. It's hard for me to believe that twenty-five years ago, I was a clerk in a clothing store!" Truman extended his hand and pulled David to his feet. "What's your name, son?"
"David Ponder. Am I okay?"
"Well, David Ponder, if you mean 'Am I dead?' the answer is no. If you simply mean 'Am I okay?'" Truman shrugged, "I'm not sure. I've never been given any information on how these things turn out."
Suddenly, David relaxed. Smiling, he said, "I understand. I'm dreaming, right?"
"Maybe you are," the president said, "but, David, I'm not. And even if you are dreaming, that's not a problem. For centuries, dreams have been used to communicate instruction and direction to people of purpose-great men and women. God used dreams to prepare Joseph for his future as a leader of nations. He gave battle plans to Gideon in a dream. Joan of Arc, Jacob, George Washington, Marie Curie, and the apostle Paul were all guided by their dreams."
"But I'm an ordinary guy," David said. "I'm nothing like any of the people you've mentioned-great, I mean-and I'm certainly no apostle Paul. I'm not even sure I believe in God anymore."
Truman smiled as he put a hand on David's shoulder. "That's all right, son," he said. "He believes in you."
"How can you be certain of that?" David asked.
"Because," Truman responded, "you wouldn't be here if He didn't. Occasionally, someone is chosen to travel the ages, gathering wisdom for future generations. It's as if the Almighty literally reaches down and places His hand on a shoulder, and in this particular case," the president peered over his glasses, "it was your shoulder."
A sharp knock at the door drew their attention. Without waiting for a response, a large, stocky man strode into the room. It was Fred Canfil, Truman's special bodyguard. Formerly the U.S. marshal from Kansas City, Fred was temporarily attached to the Secret Service and had become a favorite of the president and his family. "I'm sorry to barge in like this, sir," he said as his eyes surveyed the room. "I thought I heard you talking to someone."
"No, Fred," Truman said as he looked directly at David, "no one here." Then motioning toward the door with his hand, he said, "If you'll see that I'm not disturbed?"
"Of course, Mr. President," Canfil said as he slowly backed out, a concerned look on his face. Still glancing about, he added, "I'll be escorting you to the conference room within the hour, but if you need me before then . . ."
"You'll be right outside," Truman said as he ushered his bewildered friend from the room, "and I won't hesitate to call for you. Thank you, Fred."
As the president closed the door, David asked, "He can't see me?"
"Apparently no one can," Truman replied. "No one, that is, except the person you came to visit. Of course, that makes me look a little crazy," he said with a grin, "in here, all alone, talking to myself." Quickly, he wiped the grin off his face and continued, "But I shouldn't think anyone would find it strange. I have ample reason to be talking to myself, what with everything that's going on here." Truman cocked his head and looked at David from the corner of his eye. "It is curious how you people always seem to show up during critical points in my life."
"So this has happened to you before?" David asked.
"Yes," Truman said, "three times now since I became president, you being the third. The first time was the night Roosevelt died. I was all alone in the Oval Office, and this kid just appeared out of nowhere. Fred came busting through the door-almost gave me a heart attack. It was strange that no one could see him but me."
"Yeah, the kid." Truman paused. "I say 'kid.' He was a teenager actually. He was having trouble deciding whether or not to finish college."
David was incredulous. "That doesn't seem to be a problem big enough for the president."
"What are you here for?" Truman asked.
"I don't know."
"Well," the president said as he moved across the room, "at least the kid had a question." Leaning against the desk, he motioned for David to sit in a chair near the globe. "Anyway, there was a lot of pressure for him to stay in school."
"What did you tell him to do?" David asked.
"I didn't tell him to do anything," Truman replied. "That's not my part in all this. I offer perspective. The ultimate outcome of anyone's life is a matter of personal choice." The president continued, "I was evidently his second visit. He had just spent an hour or so with Albert Einstein."
David shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Will I be going somewhere after this?"
"Yes, you will," Truman said. "Several different places actually, but don't worry. They will be expecting you."
"So you knew I was coming?"
"I was informed as you might expect-in a dream-the other evening," Truman said. Walking around behind his desk, Truman opened the right top drawer. Removing a folded piece of paper, he handed it to David and said, "I was instructed to prepare this for you. This is the essence of why you are here. It is one of the Decisions for Success. This is the first of seven you will receive. You are to keep it with you, reading it twice daily until it is committed to your heart. For only by committing this principle to your heart will you be able to share its value with others."
David started to unfold the page. "No, no," the president said as he put his hands over David's. "Don't read it now. You must wait until our meeting is finished. As soon as you read these words, you will immediately travel to your next destination. Amazing, actually. You read the last word and-bang!-you're gone!"
David reached over and touched the globe, unconsciously turning it to the United States. "Do you know my future?" he asked.
"Nope," Truman said. "Can't help you there. And wouldn't if I could. Your future is what you decide it will be. Now you, on the other hand, could probably tell me mine." As David opened his mouth to speak, the president held out his hands as if to ward off the words. "Thanks, but no thanks. God knows, there are enough influences coming to bear without you telling me what I already did!"
"You say my future is what I decide it to be," David ventured. "I'm not sure I agree with that. My present is certainly not of my making. I worked for years to finally end up with no job, no money, and no prospects."
"David, we are all in situations of our own choosing. Our thinking creates a pathway to success or failure. By disclaiming responsibility for our present, we crush the prospect of an incredible future that might have been ours."
"I don't understand," David said.
"I am saying that outside influences are not responsible for where you are mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, or financially. You have chosen the pathway to your present destination. The responsibility for your situation is yours."
David stood up. "That's not true," he cried angrily. "I did a good job at the plant. I could've taken early retirement, but I stayed. I stayed to help the company remain afloat, and I was fired. It was not . . . my . . . fault!"
"Sit down," Truman said softly. Drawing a chair around to face David, who was trembling with anger and confusion, he said, "Look here, son. It is not my desire to upset you, but with the limited time we have been given together, truth will have to stand before tact."
Placing his elbows on his knees, the president leaned forward and took a deep breath. "Listen to me now. You are where you are because of your thinking. Your thinking dictates your decisions. Decisions are choices. Years ago, you chose where you would attend college. You chose your course of study. When you graduated with the degree you chose to pursue, you chose the companies to which you would send a resume. After interviewing with the companies that responded, you chose the one for which you would work. Somewhere during that time, you chose to go to a party or a play or a ball game. There, you met a girl whom you chose to marry. Together, you chose to have a family and how large that family would be.
"When you chose the house in which you would live and the cars you would drive, you chose how much the payments would be each month. By choosing to eat rib eye steaks or hot dogs, you chose your household expenses. And you were the one who chose not to take early retirement. You chose to stay until the bitter end. Years ago, you began making the choices that led you to your present situation. And you walked right down the middle of the path every step of the way."
Truman paused. He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his brow. David's head was hanging, his chin on his chest. "David, look at me," the president said. David's eyes met his. "The words It's not my fault! should never again come from your mouth. The words It's not my fault! have been symbolically written on the gravestones of unsuccessful people ever since Eve took her first bite of the apple. Until a person takes responsibility for where he is, there is no basis for moving on. The bad news is that the past was in your hands, but the good news is that the future, my friend, is also in your hands."
As the president leaned forward to touch the younger man on the shoulder, he was interrupted by three quick knocks on the door. "Mr. President," came a voice from the hallway. It was Fred Canfil.
"Five-minute warning, sir. I'll wait for you out here. Mr. Churchill and the Russian are already making their way to the conference room."
"Thank you, Fred." Truman chuckled. "It seems my bodyguard doesn't care very much for Mr. Stalin. Come to think of it, neither do I, and frankly, I keep a few of my plans to myself. But I suppose he's a necessary part of this process." He stood up and began rolling down his sleeves and buttoning the cuffs.
David saw the president's jacket hanging over the back of the desk chair and went to retrieve it.
"What will you do?" he asked.
Truman buttoned his collar, straightened his tie, and eyed David warily. "Let's not play any games here, son. I think we both know what I'm about to do. Do I want to do it? Do I want to deploy this . . . this bomb? Of course not!"
He strode to his desk and gathered several notebooks. Suddenly, he put them down again and faced David. "I don't have any idea what you know about me." He paused. "I suppose I mean that I don't know what people say about me in the . . . ahh . . ." He wiggled his left hand at David as if he could conjure up the words he wanted to say. "I don't know what they say about me where you come from. For all I know, history books are full of how I feel or how I look or what kind of scotch I drink, and frankly, I don't care. But let's get something straight between you and me. I hate this weapon, okay? I'm scared of it and concerned about what it might mean for the future of our world."
"Why have you decided to use it?" David asked the question with no accusation, no judgment in the tone of his voice. He simply wanted to understand the thoughts of this common man who had been placed in an uncommon position. "Why have you decided to drop the bomb?"
Truman took a deep breath. "I am the first president since the beginning of modern warfare to have experienced combat. During the First World War, I would have given anything, paid any price, to end the death and suffering I watched my friends endure. And now, here I sit, the commander in chief with the ability-no, the responsibility-to end this war and bring our boys home.
"Believe me," he said as he slipped on his jacket, "I have examined every option. I asked General Marshall what it would cost in lives to land on the Tokyo plain and other places in Japan. It was his opinion that such an invasion would cost at a minimum a quarter of a million American lives. And that's just the invasion. After that we would literally be forced to go house to house and take the country. Did you know that during this whole war, not one single Japanese platoon has surrendered, not one?"
David watched Truman, his jaw set, but with a weariness in his face as he placed the final papers in a leather satchel. "Yes," he said. "It must be done. How could any president face the mothers and sons and daughters of these American servicemen if, after the slaughter of an invasion of Japan, it became known that there was within the arsenal a weapon of sufficient force to end the war and it was not used?"
He stared blankly at David for a moment. It was as if he were seeing something of his own future, and it scared him. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, he said, "Still got the paper?"
"Yes, sir," David said as he held up the folded page that had never left his hand.
"Well, then," the president said with a smile, "go ahead and read it." He walked to the door, opened it, and was about to walk through when he paused, turned, and said, "David?"
"Sir?" David answered.
"Good luck, son."
"Thank you, sir," David said.
Truman turned to leave, but again reached back in to shake David's hand. "And one more thing," he said as he raised an eyebrow, "just because I use the expression 'good luck' doesn't mean that luck actually has anything to do with where you end up." With that, the president of the United States closed the door.
All alone, David glanced around the room. He walked slowly to the desk and sat down behind it in the big leather chair where Truman had been only moments before. Carefully, he unfolded the paper and began to read.
The First Decision for Success
The buck stops here.
From this moment forward, I will accept responsibility for my past. I understand that the beginning of wisdom is to accept the responsibility for my own problems and that by accepting responsibility for my past, I free myself to move into a bigger, brighter future of my own choosing.
Never again will I blame my parents, my spouse, my boss, or other employees for my present situation. Neither my education nor lack of one, my genetics, or the circumstantial ebb and flow of everyday life will affect my future in a negative way. If I allow myself to blame these uncontrollable forces for my lack of success, I will be forever caught in a web of the past. I will look forward. I will not let my history control my destiny.
The buck stops here. I accept responsibility for my past. I am responsible for my success.
I am where I am today-mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and financially-because of decisions I have made. My decisions have always been governed by my thinking. Therefore, I am where I am today-mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and financially-because of how I think. Today I will begin the process of changing where I am-mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and financially-by changing the way I think.
My thoughts will be constructive, never destructive. My mind will live in the solutions of the future. It will not dwell in the problems of the past. I will seek the association of those who are working and striving to bring about positive changes in the world. I will never seek comfort by associating with those who have decided to be comfortable.
When faced with the opportunity to make a decision, I will make one. I understand that God did not put in me the ability to always make right decisions. He did, however, put in me the ability to make a decision and then make it right. The rise and fall of my emotional tide will not deter me from my course. When I make a decision, I will stand behind it. My energy will go into making the decision. I will waste none on second thoughts. My life will not be an apology. It will be a statement.
The buck stops here. I control my thoughts. I control my emotions.
In the future when I am tempted to ask the question "Why me?" I will immediately counter with the answer: "Why not me?" Challenges are gifts, opportunities to learn. Problems are the common thread running through the lives of great men and women. In times of adversity, I will not have a problem to deal with; I will have a choice to make. My thoughts will be clear. I will make the right choice. Adversity is preparation for greatness. I will accept this preparation. Why me? Why not me? I will be prepared for something great!
I accept responsibility for my past. I control my thoughts. I control my emotions. I am responsible for my success.
The buck stops here.