THAT ENIGMNATIC equation was the ruin of me. It’s illusive answer the recreation of me.
The first time I saw those six maddening characters was at the home of Jonathan Samuels. After months of negotiations and good old fashioned begging I had finally been granted a brief interview. He was, after all, one of the richest men in the world who had lived in virtual seclusion for decades.
My past research had turned up a few nuggets of information about the reclusive billionaire. I knew he had no family, no wife or children, legitimate or otherwise. One unsubstantiated report claimed the man had experienced some kind of life changing event that drove him into his present seclusion. But in truth, everything I knew about Jonathan Samuel’s personal life was of the tabloid variety. Now for the first time in years, a relative novice like me had the chance to ask him whatever I desired.
From the moment I entered through the massive oaken doors of his English Tutor home I was struck by the absence of life in the place. There were no personal effects on the hall shelves. No family pictures on the walls. Most houses hint at the character and nature of their owners but not this one. No doubt it held secrets but it wasn’t hinting at what they were.
Upon entering his private room, the futility of the man’s existence made itself immediately known. Medical equipment surrounded his bed and the constant hiss of oxygen accompanied his intermittent coughs and wheezes. The gray flesh of his face topped with that sparse shock of snow white hair gave him the appearance of Dickens’ Marley. Perhaps he wasn’t “dead as a door-nail” but he would be soon.
Trying to mask my emotions, I glanced at my note pad and then back at the dying man. I counted to three, regained my journalistic composure and began to ask the usual questions: about his family, his wealth, his advice. I rattled off an impressive list of his accomplishments, interjecting the appropriate inquiries at the appropriate places.
In the midst of my stellar interview, Marley raised his head up as far as he could and glared at me through pale sickly eyes. As he began to speak I half expected his lower jaw to drop and ethereal groans to come in the place of words. “Is that what you’ve been hounding me for the last few months?” he croaked. “You could have opened any of twenty different copies of Newsweek, Time, or The Wall Street Journal from the last fifty years and gotten all of that pabulum without bothering a sick old man about to check out of this wonderland. Life is too short to waste with such meaningless trivia. My life is too short … and so is yours.”
His fell back to his pillow and his breathing grew shallower. The brief but impassioned diatribe had apparently cost him what little strength he had left. He looked at me and whispered, “You’re wasting your time son. You’ll never get the right answer if you don’t ask the right question.” And then he grew silent.
What was the right question? The old man had definitely phrased his statement in the singular rather than the plural. Finally in a moment of inspiration I knew what I wanted to ask this man who controlled vast empires of industry and commerce. Hoping he had the strength and inclination with which to answer any more questions I leaned closer.
“If you could share just one secret to lasting prosperity,” I asked, “what would it be?”
And that’s when it happened. The old man’s heart monitor began to beep loudly and a worried looking nurse rushed in. She started to push me out of the way but her charge held a feeble hand up to stop her. Lacking the lung capacity to speak further, he grabbed a notepad and pen beside him and wrote:
And then, he was gone. He died with his bony white fingers locked around the pen. For all my preparation and effort I left that tomb of a house with only those six characters and a head full of unanswered questions. Eighteen months working for the interview of a lifetime and all I had to show for it was
Over the years that followed, I consulted every expert I could think of to decipher its meaning but to no avail. Every free minute, every spare dollar and every last ounce of sanity I had went into unlocking a dying man’s secret. A cryptologist friend who worked at the NSA fussed over it for months before surrendering to its mystery. Several experts in the financial world studied and argued over it until I grew weary of their guesses and they grew equally weary of me. Recalling reports of Samuel’s “life changing” experience even took me to Nepal and Tibet hoping the sages of the East might have some clue. But all the guesses were as devoid of life as that tomb of a house I left the man in that day he took his last breath.
Those six character conspired together to rob me of most of my sanity and all of worldly goods. Years of seeking to understand them left me with no friends, no family, and little left of what I once knew as me. All of my dreams, hopes and aspirations had been wasted on my quest, leaving behind this shell of man I am now.
That’s how I ended up at this homeless shelter. With no money and no family, it was the last place I wanted to be but the only place that would have me. Then tonight, less than hour ago the answer came looking for me. Tonight, in this place of lost dreams where men abandon hope I finally understood.
I was giving my usual “mad man” rant about PS1188 and how it had ruined my life to a fellow overnighter at the shelter. To both my amazement and consternation, this woman, with her life in a shopping cart, confidently proclaimed she understood the mystery that had hounded me for so very long.
I must admit I though her confidence most amusing. Scholars, Special Agents, cryptologists, financial wizards, and Buddhist monks were stymied. But this simple woman claimed to see the answer at first thought. I looked up at her through blood shot eyes and dared her with my stare to divulge her supposed answer to the mystery. And she did!
To prove it she lifted a battered old book and flipped through its pages nearly as thin as the pallid skin stretched across the back of her hands. Without a word, she pointed to a few underlined sentences. The answer to the question I had posed all those years ago was indeed there. An answer offered right in the exact middle of an oft rejected book held by an oft rejected shadow of humanity.
This was beyond a doubt the answer to Jonathan’s Samuel’s secret of lasting prosperity and it had been available at every turn in my journey in a thousand different places and nearly as many languages. Trust me, it’s always been there. Just find a copy of that book; there are plenty of them around. Look it up for yourself.
I would offer yet one last clue, the one offered to me by a woman whose past and future rested in a rusting shopping cart. But without the journey that led me to her I doubt you would believe the answer could be there. But when that day comes, and it will, you will have to decide to either embrace the answer of walk away from it. Just find the book – PS 118 8 is the answer.
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