Frequently on my recent rail travel to Vermont, whenever an oncoming train would pass us, I was reminded of a book I had many years ago and which I loaned to someone and never got back. When I finally asked about it months later, she had no recollection of the book or even of the transaction. It was one I had stumbled across in a used book store and was long out of print. Before the internet and ebay I would look for it whenever I happened to be in a used book store but to no avail. It is one of two or three books in my life in this category; that is, things I’ve given away or loaned but which were never returned that I wanted back. But what was it you ask, and why would train travel evoke the memory?
I remembered the book as being titled something like “Give Yourself Away,” and my most vivid recollection of its contents was the author’s account of his initial discovery of “giving himself away.” He was a frequent traveler by rail on a train named “The Century,” which made one trip east and one west each day. That is, there were two each day, running in opposite directions. It occurred to him that there was a point between the origins and destinations of each where they passed each other, and he wrote to the railroad with the “no-strings-attached” suggestion that it might make a fine addition to their advertising campaign to have a photograph of the trains passing each other with the caption “Where the Centuries Meet.” He later received a letter, thanking him for the idea and saying further that just such a layout would be in the calendar that the railroad would be publishing. As a frequent traveler, he often had occasion to see the calendar on display in many places and was always thrilled to see the result of sharing his idea, pleasure far above any he would have derived had he been paid for it. It embarked him on a lifetime of giving himself away in ways that cost him nothing but which brought joy to countless others.
Well: good news! In thinking about writing this Cup during the past week, I renewed my search for this book. And I found it, where else but on Amazon! The title is “Try Giving Yourself Away,” and the author is David Dunn. It is hard to tell from the listings on Amazon if it is in reprint, but there are a few of various formats (paperback, hard cover, leather bound) available from third party sellers. (Don’t you just absolutely love the internet and the way it has overcome the limitations of browsing in actual brick and mortar used book stores!) So the good news is that it is obtainable; the bad news is that it seems to be in short supply. But here’s the even better news – Googleing it brought up the full text of the book, on-line, free for the asking. It is part of a project of archive.org.
Here’s the link to it:
It is text only, so it lacks the marvelous photo of the where the Centuries meet, but there it is.
Here, to tease you into wanting to read more, is the author’s account of the calendar in Chapter 1, “I Make an Important Discovery.”
“Like most people, I was brought up to look upon life as a process of getting. The idea of “giving myself away” came to me by accident. One night, twenty-odd years ago, while lying awake in my berth on the Twentieth Century Limited en route from Chicago to New York, I fell to wondering just where the eastbound and westbound Centuries passed each other in the night.
“That would make an interesting subject for one of the New York Central’s advertisements,” I said to myself “Where the Centuries Pass.” Whereupon I went to sleep.
“Next morning I wrote a letter to the New York Central Lines presenting the idea, “with no strings attached.” A few days later I received a courteous letter of acknowledgment and the information that the Centuries were scheduled to pass near the little town of Athol Springs, New York, nine miles west of Buffalo.
“Some months later I received a second letter informing me that my “Where the Centuries Pass” idea was to be used as the subject for the New York Central calendar for 1924. You may recall that calendar, a night picture of the oncoming
locomotive of one Century and the lighted observation platform of the other, passing on a curve. It was a scene rich in color and railroad romance.
“The following summer I traveled extensively. In almost every railroad station and hotel lobby I entered, both at home and in Europe, hung my Century calendar. It never failed to give me a glow of pleasure.
“It was thus I made the important discovery that anything which makes one glow with pleasure is beyond money calculation, for in this humdrum world where there is altogether too much grubbing and too little glowing.
“I began to experiment with giving-away, and discovered it to be great fun! My life began to be full of exciting little adventures, and I found myself making many new friends.
“I discovered, too, that successful giving-away has to be cultivated. There is a knack to it, just as there is to successful getting. Opportunities for reaping dividends of happiness are fleeting. You have to act quickly or they elude you. But that only adds zest.”
And here’s a comment by one reviewer on another site:
“Subject: To Give is To Save ”On this 8 march 2011, I start a new journey in my life, with a review of one the most important literary works ever written; “Try Giving Yourself Away”. This masterpiece of literary art, will for the second time in my life, “save my life”. God bless you David Dunn. I hear your voice with my “eyes”. The gift of giving of yourself, when you have nothing else. To dig deep in one’s soul and mean it with every breath.” Thank you, Napoleon GMann”
So my quest for my long lost book is over, and I eagerly await its arrival from Amazon. I hope you make contact with it too. Just go to the link above to the on-line copy. You’ll be glad you did.
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 6/25/2013.