What Do You Know?

Back when, I thought I would like to be a speechwriter. I thought I could be a good one. When I made a career stop at Huntingdon College, I had a chance to help Wanda Bigham prepare her remarks. That was fun for me. I had a leader whose thought processes I understood and could appreciate, and I enjoyed helping her shape her messages.

One day – this was 20 years ago – she told me about an article she’d read in The Washington Post – something she wanted to reference in a speech. This memory came to mind last weekend. As I recalled the story, a poor man found a wallet filled with cash and turned it back over to its rightful owner. He’d said, “I am an honest man.” This was his identity, how he pictured himself even in difficult times, and this thought guided his actions.

That part I remembered and that was enough to search Google, find the link right away, and reread a column by Courtland Milloy, “Counting on an Honest Man.”

It seems an 80-year-old business woman, Cecelia P. Scott, had left her Louis Vitton purse on the hood of a truck in front of a building she owned in a crime-prone area of Northwest Washington. The wallet inside was stuffed with cash and credit cards. Arthur “Stumpy” Whitehurst discovered the purse as he was leaving a makeshift employment center for day laborers. He was 45 and broke. He’d had no luck getting work that day, and he could have used the money. However, the article quotes him saying:

“I saw it, and my heart said, ‘Give it back,’ Whitehurst recalled. “In my heart, I know stealing is wrong, and I know that I am an honest man.”

Whitehurst waited at the corner for two and a half hours for Scott to return. Yet what was equally significant in this story is that Scott wasn’t even surprised to get the wallet back. Over many years of business ventures and charitable acts, she had become an endearing figure in this neighborhood.

“I know that there are honest people at Seventh and T,” she said in the interview. And she added: “I just believe that if we look out for one another, God will fix it so that one good deed begets another.”

You can put these two quotes side by side: “I know I am an honest man.” “I know that there are honest people at Seventh and T.” A reminder of how we are connected in this world, it took Whitehurst’s belief about himself to confirm Scott’s belief about others and a greater power at work over both lives for their journeys to intersect.

But now, reading the 20-year-old article, words that guided the fearless trust by which Scott lived her life popped out to me. She invoked her father’s favorite saying: “Cast your bread upon the waters, and it comes back tenfold.”

Whenever I hear or see the “cast your bread upon the waters” phrase it is as if a little nudge and smile from heaven has floated into the path of my long, uncertain and often difficult journey. Those were the words my mother said to me on a significant day.

After college graduation, I inquired at advertising agencies, one after another, and waited for eight months to secure my first job as a copywriter. When I was offered a position, I called home with the news, and my mother said, “Cast your bread upon the waters, and it comes back buttered.”

That phrase stuck out to me both because it was an important day, and I’d never heard my mother say any such thing as she didn’t tend to rely on platitudes. I learned later that the saying has its roots in Ecclesiastes 11:1: “Cast your bread upon the waters for you will find it after many days.” I always hear as a nudge that says, “Keep trying.”

And I know that I am someone who keeps trying.

When I was working part-time at Huntingdon, I began the manuscript that would become Life with Strings Attached, my novel. Then I set out on my own as a full-time copywriter with the still unfinished, unpublished work in my life-goals to-do list. For two and a half years, I worked a list. I’d tried this agent, that agent, another agent. I tried a regional publisher, more agents, a local publisher. I kept a list going so that if one thing didn’t work out, I knew the next thing I would try.

As I began to wonder how long I could keep this up, I added one last thing to my list, the very last thing I knew to try. I had seen a notice for a contest being conducted by Paraclete Press seeking a literary novel with Christian themes. I added the contest to the end of my list. I had no further plan.

I submitted my manuscript in February 2004 and a couple of months later, I received word that I had won. And there it was. My book would be published after all.

Throughout that long process, I often thought of the phrase “cast your bread upon the waters,” and it continues to speak to me whenever I hear it or see it. Because I know I am someone who keeps trying.

As you go out today, is there something that you know about yourself that would be useful to remember?

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey,
Vol. 2, Issue 12

P.S. I tell the stories about copywriting and writing Life with Strings Attached in Min at Work. Details about those books are here: minnielamberth.com/books