I just finished reading a great book called “The Map Thief,” the story of Forbes Smiley, III, an esteemed rare maps dealer, who, as the book jacket says, “…spent years doubling as a map thief—until he was finally arrested slipping maps out of books in the Yale University library.”
It was a great book, and I learned a lot about maps: how they were created, and how, by simply changing a border, you could change a nation, but, beyond my own education about maps and their value, was the story of the failings of a guy who committed crimes against all he professed to love—the study and beauty of historical maps.
In the end, after he was caught and admitted to his theft and then agreed to help to recover some of what was lost (to save himself from more time in prison), it was apparent that the one thing he could not recover was his name and reputation. Due to the court order, he was no longer allowed to engage in the trade he knew and loved so much, and the reality is no one would ever buy or sell to him now since he was a known thief.
It was a good story and a great lesson for life that I want to touch on today and that is… if you are heading in the wrong direction, friend, stop and turn yourself around before it is too late.
I know that most reading this today are heading in the right general direction that they should be; not pulling to the right or to the left, but staying within the borders of what is acceptable; for the others who know they are in a mess and, when found out, will either land in jail, wreck their reputation or cause friends to turn away, if this is you and you’re running headlong in the wrong direction, let me appeal to you—turn yourself around before it’s too late.
You know you can be arrested for embezzlement…stock fraud…computer hacking…bank robbery…vehicular manslaughter…drug dealing and a thousand other crimes, but it is not just the recognizable crimes that I am talking about, but also the personal issues that you’re not dealing with that will land you in a boatload of trouble.
I think we’re always surprised when we read the paper about a “former” upstanding citizen who embezzled from the P.T.A. they were president of, or the local food bank where they were employed or the nursing home where they worked and stole from the elderly.
But what about the other things that will wreck your life if you’re not careful? I shudder when I see the videos online that show the aftermath of jumbled steel and tires of the wrecked car because someone took a selfie while driving or decided a text was more important than staying on your side of the road.
And, frankly, I have no patience for those who drink and drive, because, unfortunately, it’s the drunk that usually walks away from the accident that many times takes the life of an innocent person. The photos I see only show me the damage of the current situation and not the extended pain that the families who have lost a loved one will endure for life.
We’re becoming a nation of absurd, self-indulgent people concerned only with one’s self—not others—and that is causing harm to a degree we’ve never seen in our county, our homes and in the lives of those we love.
Friend, if you’re heading down the wrong track, stop now before it’s too late, because one day when you least expect it, you will cross a point of no return…and with every good intention that you have to turn yourself around, it will be not be enough, and you’ll be lost forever; it happens every day.
The book, “The Map Thief,” that I started telling you about when I opened, ends with Forbes Smiley (who now goes by his first name, Ed, to hide his background and remind even himself that his name no longer has any meaning but that of a thief) now working on a yard crew to make a little money to help the family. His wife now carries the bulk of the financial responsibilities since he cannot work in his industry and no one wants to be associated with him.
But it is another part of the story that really hurt my heart, because of the personal pain he caused so many who were at one time his friends, customers and clients.
That aspect of his story that rings so true was painful to read, and the realization for everyone who commits a crime, that—when and if you’re ever found out—the loss of friends, customers and clients is probably more harsh than any prison sentence would ever be, because it is the loss of lifetime relationships. The people who trusted you—really trusted you—you’ve now let down, and you will never regain a position of trust with them. In fact, most will never want to see you again and will curse your name and the day you were born.
A few of the map dealers who, without knowing, bought and sold the stolen wares of the map thief were his friends and clients, and reading of their profound loss of his friendship, his knowledge, wit and wisdom was life-changing and made it hard for them to wrap their head around this incredible sense of betrayal. He affected everyone who had contact with him.
At his hearing, the proprietors of the nation’s top university libraries and rare book collections whose maps he had stolen, told the court that his crime was more than a pebble on the water that rippled to the edge and then dissipated; when they were able to return some of the maps that they could find and put back into their collections, his crime was more like a drop of oil on the water that covered everything and left a mess that would probably never be removed or recovered.
And the saddest part of his whole story and thousands of stories just like this is that…one day, he made the choice to be a thief. I’m sure he justified it in his own mind; in fact, he states that private dealers and buyers are better owning the maps, because with them the maps can be seen by all, and that is better than having the maps stuffed away in a library where no one can enjoy the beauty of their story.
Wow! You’ve got to hand it to him—he has convinced himself that his theft is justified in his own absurd, self-indulgent way. Isn’t that just like those who act out today, always having to create a justification for their evil actions—actions that can and many times cause great harm.
As far as I know, no one is born a thief or an embezzler or stock fraud dealer or computer hacker or bank robber or drunk driver or drug dealer—those are habits that you learn. Those are habits that you see and either turn away from or get comfortable with, so much so, that you become them…unless you turn yourself around…now.
These habits are not like a 12-step program. You’re not going to graduate from one to the other and get well and put your life back together. No, if you’re not careful, the habits that you are hiding and think you can get away with will hunt you down and follow you to your bitter end…and you are going to look awful in that orange jumpsuit.
I wish I could tell you that you’re smart enough to outfox the critics and keep the dogs at bay until you can get caught up on your debts: so you don’t steal anymore, or erase your hard drive so no one sees your illicit addictions, or break off your affair before your spouse finds out or one of the thousands of others issues you’re dealing poorly with. Ah, friend, time is not on your side. The piper will come calling, and she has your number.
Today, while you can turn yourself around, walk away, make it right and don’t turn back. You’re not going to win at this game—it is stacked a mile high against you—and even if you’ve seared your moral conscience and think you can live with the consequences, you will always fear that your past will show up in the present and, from what I have seen, your past shows up when you’re doing well, and it shows up when you’re not; in either case, you’re not able to fight back, because the cards are no longer in your hands—someone holds the deck, and when the house comes calling, your number is up.
Hear me if you are heading in the wrong direction. Stop, and turn around before it is too late. You’re better than the mess you’re now in! Be stronger than your fear and save yourself. Only you can do it.