It was October 29th, 1929. Black Tuesday, the swift and final blow to the brilliant façade of the Roaring Twenties. All over the country, old women with pale faces and middle-aged men suddenly gone grey realized the loss of all their savings, the loss of their homes, the loss of everything. There was no hope, for the crash was despair.
Shepherd sat at his desk. It was snowy with telegrams, each more urgent than the last. With a sudden, blind haste he shot back from the white mound and stumbled over to the open window. He looked out. A thousand questions raced in his mind, each a pounding pain in his temples. Then they began an avalanche, all rolling and jostling and clinging together into a screaming crowd that blended into one solitary thought.
“You are ruined beyond recall, Shepherd. You had better end it all. Now.”
Dazed, he looked down into the alleyway. Business had been going so well—he had planned to move out of his shabby office into one overlooking a busy avenue instead of the dirty street below. Still, even though he wasn’t exactly atop a skyscraper, it was far enough above the pavement to suit his half-formed purpose. He’d heard many reports of others taking this way out; suddenly he knew with desperate certainty that he could not face the white menace crouching at his desk. He stepped out on the window ledge.
In the distance, faintly, a dull tolling began to sound. It was the bell in the steeple of the old church a few blocks away. It penetrated his consciousness and quick memories flooded him. Memories of another day, a simpler day. The school bell clanging harshly in his ears as he rushed barefoot through the door. Sweat trickling down his collar as he studied his reader, and the teacher’s unwelcome voice:
“Shep, rise and recite your piece.”
He recalled his reluctance and embarrassment as he got to his feet and began.
“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you…”
His voice had droned on in the warmth of the little schoolhouse. Now, he heard the words as though for the first time.
“…If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,
And treat those two imposters just the same…”
He had met with disaster; that was clear enough. But it was irreparable, was it not?
“Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools...”
He looked at his hands. They were weak and soft, he thought with scorn. They could not be depended on. Covering his face with them, he sunk again into memory.
“If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss…”
He groaned aloud. What madness had caused him to speculate? And why with other people’s money, too? If it had only been his own, he would not have felt one-tenth so badly. “You don’t deserve to live.” The voice in his head was drowned by the quiet recitation of the schoolroom.
“And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss…”
But the loss was too great. How could he go on? He’d failed as a man, as a businessman. He’d failed his clients.
“…If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone…”
But how could he? There was nothing left. It was only an empty shell of a man standing on the window ledge.
“And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"...”
Shepherd raised his head. It dripped with perspiration. A gleam of hope dawned in his tortured eyes and softened them. His mouth moved mechanically in synch with the boy’s in the schoolhouse.
“If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!”
The boy sat down at his desk, relieved that the ordeal was over. The Man turned from the window and faced the monster at his desk.
In the distance, the bell struck twelve and was silent.
The poem the boy recites is “If” by Rudyard Kipling. It has not been reproduced here in its entirety.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
If you died today, are you absolutely certain that you would go to heaven? You can be right now. CLICK HERE
JOIN US at FaithWriters for Free. Grow as a Writer and Spread the Gospel.