The World Still Needs Dr. Hudson

As I have described in my book, and the previous two blogs, I received Dr. Hudson’s Journal when it appeared in front of me in a doctor’s lobby. It was a coincidence, I thought.

The basic principles, or rules, of Dr. Hudson’s methods were set out in my last blog. I think the following quote, from Dr. Hudson himself, adequately sums up the benefits:

I want to go on record with my belief, arrived at by experience, that if an act of human rehabilitation is secretly wrought, the development is manifest not only in the life of the beneficiary, but the benefactor.

L.C. Douglas, Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal 90 (London 1940).

In other words:  The key to success in your own life lies in selflessly helping others to succeed in theirs. I find myself thinking of how similar this message is to the message I had received in the mountains on New Year’s Day 2008, that until I learned to be grateful for the gifts in my life already, I would not receive what I wanted.

In my experience, the circularity by which Dr. Hudson’s method brings rehabilitation back to the giver of such rehabilitation also applies to the book itself. It is not just a book I found when I needed to find it, but a book that comes back to me when I need it again. Some people tell me my book is like that, and I hope that is true, at least once.

As I tell it in my book, I was sitting at a lunch counter when I finished the copy of Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal I had found in my doctor’s office. The waitress asked me about the book, and I gave to her.  When she said she would give it back, I encouraged her to pass it on instead. She read the book and passed it on to someone else, but the book did come back to me. Just like one of Dr. Hudson’s secret investments.

When the book came back to me, I was in Australia in response to an invitation from someone who had purchased more than 700 copies of my book.  He was sending one along with each of his 365 thank-you notes that year.  He is an author himself, having been on Australia’s bestseller list several times, but he is also a great lover of books, and supporter of those who write them.  Signing the books, I felt, was the least I could do for such a reader. Besides, I wanted to see Australia. I was at a meeting in Australia during that trip when a man gave me a battered well-read copy of Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal originally published by a London publisher.

The copy of the book I received in Australia had once belonged to “Lady Bede,” a beloved member of “the Randwich Group,” a name that referred to an AA meeting. You would think people would refer to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting simply as an “AA meeting,” but pursuant to the Sixth Tradition of AA, which prohibits most uses of the AA name, such meetings are often identified only by their location. Likewise, to protect their anonymity, people in such groups adopt a variation of their given name. For example, the founders of the original AA group in Akron, Ohio are called “Bill W.” and “Dr. Bob” to this day. Even that much of their identity is usually only revealed to the public after their death.

“Lady Bede,” was a well-known character of the Randwich AA Group who had over 50 years of sobriety when she passed away. She had passed on her copy of Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal to my new Australian friend, who passed it on to me. “I had heard you gave yours away,” he told me. “Lady Bede would want you to have this copy.”

Inside the front cover of my well read copy of Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal is the handwritten name: “Bede.” I have decided to keep Bede’s copy. At least until I am inspired to pass it on.

Reading Lady Bede’s copy of Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal, I think I finally understood the point of Lloyd Douglas’s melodramatic plots. In each of them, earnest people succeed in life, but they have their greatest successes only after reaching out to help someone else succeed. People have been critical of Douglas’s plots because they seem to be full of remarkable coincidences. But I think we should consider whether such events really are coincidences, or whether there really is a cause and effect relationship.  When I look at my own story, I wonder, whether all the good things that have happened to me occurred only by coincidence, or whether they were the outcome of the gratitude I had projected.

As I read Lady Bede’s copy of Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal, and tried to make attempts at formalizing its method into a neat set of “rules,” I have been struck by how personal a connection I have felt to this lost, out-of-print book.  Partly this results from my seven years in Ann Arbor, where the fictional Dr. Hudson practiced medicine, and where I went to school between 1972 and 1979. Lloyd Douglas, the author of the book, spent many years early in the 1900’s preaching at the first Congregational church in Ann Arbor, which is located just off the University of Michigan campus. I walked by that church thousands of times completely oblivious to its connection to the author whose work I would later discover. It is fair to say I was pretty oblivious to any church in those days.

Reading Lady Bede’s copy of Dr. Hudson, I recognized prior versions of the Ann Arbor I knew in the 70’s. I think I ate a restaurant down by the railroad track that was initially established with an investment from Dr. Hudson.  Many of the lecture halls and school buildings I studied in were named after professors Dr. Hudson and Lloyd Douglas personally knew, and these professors make brief appearances in Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal.

I may even have encountered the real life Dr. Hudson during my Ann Arbor years.  It turns out, at least according to my Internet research, that Lloyd Douglas modeled Dr. Hudson and Bobby Merrick after a real life neurosurgeon who practiced in Ann Arbor at the University Hospital, and nearby St. Joseph’s Hospital until 1985.  These hospitals were just a few minutes walk from the Mary Markley dormitory where I lived between 1972 and 1974.  In 1975 and 1976, I worked in the basement of the dormitory at the snack bar. The two ladies who were the regular cooks taught me and many other students how to work a grill so well that a big crowd of the doctors and nurses from the hospital would come over at lunch just to have one of our cheeseburgers or milk shakes.

Leaving aside the question of whether I cooked a real-life cheeseburger for the real-life Dr. Hudson, I wonder whether his selfless methods have application for those seeking success today. They do.  As I can tell you from personal experience, some of your selfless investments will not work out. In Dr. Hudson’s own words, you cannot expect things to work out on a “cash and carry” basis.  Nevertheless, in Bobby Merrick’s impassioned words,  “You will run into cases of ingratitude so rank it will sicken you! But – now and again, you will manage to put the thing over. . . . and when you do you will discover it has squared for all the failures you’ve had!.” L. C. Douglas, Magnificent Obsession 218 (Houghton Mifflin 1999).

There is still a place for Dr. Hudson’s rules.  Following them is no easy task.  For one thing, it’s quite a challenge to get to a place of financial responsibility in your own life given the temptations to spend money one doesn’t yet have. I am only now doing so myself, and I am nearing retirement.  But I have made some investments in my fellow man, and I hope to get the chance to make more.

Certainly there is a role for government aid in a world that leaves an increasing number of us behind and without gainful employment.  Yet many of those still working resent what they see as a decline in productivity caused by the seizure of a large portion of income by a government clumsily dispensing a dizzying array of aid to those in need without seeming to really help them.  (I’m writing this on April 15, when a lot of people seem to be feeling this way.) When I drive by someone at a street corner, I need only tune in to talk radio to hear complaints about all the aid programs devoted to the support of the person with his hand out on that corner.  Such information causes one to wonder why still more should be required to help those in need once one’s taxes have been fully paid.

Yet even in today’s world of government programs, there is still a need for unquestioning mercy to that person at the corner, a mercy that requires no forms be filled, out, and which simply offers a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to a hungry person, no questions asked.

And especially in such a world there is a need for investments that truly empower people to help themselves and others.  The most efficient thing a government can do is to write checks: it cannot motivate those who receive them to take action, except by refusing to write more checks.  Government aid cannot accomplish what a secret investment in someone’s empowerment can get done. The government cannot empower the recipient to help himself. It cannot imbue him with fervor to pay back the aid received by helping others.

Lloyd Douglas’s writing has continued to come to my attention in mysterious ways. A reader from England was in Los Angeles shortly after my book came out. She took a bus out to the courthouse where I work, and gave me a copy of a book written by Douglas in 1919, before he was known as a writer.  Research on the internet indicates that this book, The Fate of the Limited, is not available anywhere.  But this reader had gone to the Library of Congress in Washington, and had copied every page of it at a copy machine, then pasted it in a book, which she gave to me. (I’d be concerned about this, but it appears any copyright in this classic has lapsed.) I still have not read the book. In some ways, I am afraid to.  As Douglas’s imaginary sculptor in Magnificent Obsession said, once you go into it, you’re bound.

“For if you make an excursion into this, you’re bound! . . . . It took the man who discovered it to a cross at the age of thirty-three!”

L.C. Douglas, Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal 45 (London 1940). The Fate of the Limited has its own warning on the cover, cautioning the reader that to read it will be costly.

Someday, I will read The Fate of the Limited. I encourage you to read at least The Magnificent Obsession. I pray that at least some of us will be inspired to do more than read the books.  There are worse fates than being bound to a life that helps to empower others.

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