by David Sisler
Alex Haley became a household name overnight. First a book and later a TV mini-series about his family became unparalleled success stories. Roots won a Pulitzer Prize as a novel, and nine Emmy awards as a television production. The last time Alex Haley's name was prominent in news reports his entire estate was sold at auctioned to pay off debts.
As a boy Alex Haley had listened to stories told by his grandmother and aunts and cousins. They were stories about their family and about slavery. Backed by a contract from Reader's Digest he spent nine years researching and writing. When Roots was published in 1976, he became "an overnight success."
That "overnight success" began 17 years earlier when Haley left a 20-year career with the Coast Guard to become a free-lance writer. Living in a cleaned-out storage room in a Greenwich Village apartment, he barely earned enough to eat.
One day in 1960, a friend offered Haley a job as a public information assistant in San Francisco. The annual salary was $6000, big money 41 years ago. He turned it down and stuck to his dream - not to be a writer, but to write. His passion was to craft words and ideas, to transform a blank sheet of paper into a creation of communication.
At the time Haley turned down the $6000-a-year job, his disposable wealth consisted of two cans of sardines and 18 cents. But he had a dream, and he was determined to stay the course.
Years later he unpacked a box filled with things from that old apartment. Among the few possessions was a crumpled brown paper bag. Inside were two corroded sardine cans, a nickel, a dime and three pennies - memos of sacrifice and determination.
Alex Haley had those few souvenirs framed in Lucite and hung them in his office, beside of the Pulitzer Prize and a portrait of the nine Emmy awards. They were a tribute to a dream and to the commitment that led to success.
Contrast the contents of that paper bag with a safety deposit box rented to Mrs. Forita Hall. The box - and think of the security we associate with a "safety deposit box" - was in the Bank of America, in London. On April 25, 1975, robbers successfully penetrated the vault and stole millions of dollars from safety deposit boxes.
When Mrs. Hall was interviewed she said, "In that lock box I had $400,000 worth of jewelry. I had some gold coins worth six figures. Everything I owned was in that box." Then she added, "My whole life was in that box."
Jesus told about a man who was working in a field. He was not the owner of the land. He may have been helping out a neighbor. He may have been a hired worker. While working in the soil, probably plowing with a hand plow, maybe using an animal, he uncovered a great treasure.
Banks were unavailable to ordinary citizens. It was not uncommon in that day to hide valuables in the ground. Jesus told about one man was given one talent to invest and because he was afraid of his master, hid the talent in the ground.
We do not know the amount of the treasure. We do know it was sufficiently large, so that the man liquidated all of his assets, sold everything he had, and bought that field. He was not looking for treasure, he just stumbled across it, but in order to possess it, he had to make a total commitment.
Do you suppose that in order to raise the cash quickly, he had to take a loss on his sales? Probably. When some people find out you are desperate, they will take advantage of you. Did the man think the sacrifice was worth it? Obviously, because he sold everything he had to obtain that one treasure.
Mrs. Forita Hall's dream, possibly over $1,000,000, vanished overnight. Alex Haley was committed to a dream, a dream represented by two cans of sardines and eighteen cents. The man in Jesus' story made a total commitment to possess one field.
Is there anything in your life to which you are similarly and singularly committed? What about Jesus? Is He worth it?
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Copyright 2001 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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