From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

It Is Later Than You Think

In 1938, I received a letter that completely changed my way of life:

Peking, China       

Dear Doctor:

Please don’t be too surprised in getting a letter from me. I am signing only my first name. My surname is the same as yours.

You won’t even remember me. Two years ago I was in your hospital, under the care of another doctor. I lost my baby the day it was born.

That same day my doctor came in to see me, and as he left he said, “Oh, by the way, there is a doctor here with the same name as yours who noticed your name on the board, and asked me about you. He said he would like to come in to see you because you might be a relative. I told him you had lost your baby and I didn’t think you would want to see anybody, but it was all right with me.”

And then in a little while, you came in. You put your hand on my arm and sat down for a moment beside my bed. You didn’t say much of anything, but your eyes and your voice were kind, and pretty soon I felt better. As you sat there I noticed that you looked tired and that the lines in your face were very deep. I never saw you again but the nurses told me you were in the hospital practically night and day.

This afternoon I was a guest in a beautiful Chinese home here in Peking. The garden was enclosed by a high wall, and on one side, surrounded by twining red and white flowers, was a brass plate about two feet long. I asked someone to translate the Chinese characters for me. They said:

Enjoy Yourself

It Is Later Than You Think

I began to think about it for myself. I had not wanted another baby because I was still grieving for the one I lost. But I decided that moment that I should not wait any longer. Perhaps it may be later than I think, too. And then, because I was thinking of my baby, I thought of you and the tired lines in your face, and the moment of sympathy you gave me when I so needed it. I don’t know how old you are but I am quite sure you are old enough to be my father; and I know that those few minutes you spent with me meant little or nothing to you, of course—but they meant a great deal to a woman who was desperately unhappy.

So I am so presumptuous as to think that in turn I can do something for you, too. Perhaps for you it is later than you think. Please forgive me, but when your work is over, on the day you get my letter, please sit down very quietly, all by yourself, and think about it.


Usually I sleep very well when I am not disturbed by the telephone, but that night I woke a dozen times, seeing the brass plate in the Chinese wall. I dismissed the thing from my mind; but before I knew it I found myself saying again to myself: Well, maybe it is later than you think; why don’t you do something about it?

I went to my office the next morning and told them I was going away for three months. Then I telephoned Shorty, my best friend, and asked him to come to my office. On his arrival I told him that I wanted him to go home and pack a grip and come on down to South America with me. I read him the letter. He shook his head. “I can’t go,” he said. “Of course I’d like to, but for weeks now I’ve been waiting to close a deal. I’m sorry, old man, but maybe sometime . . . sometime . . .” his words came more slowly. “What was that thing again that woman said? ‘It is later than you think.’ Well . . .”

He sat quietly for a moment. At last he spoke. “I waited three months for those people to make up their minds. I am not going to wait any longer. When would you like to go?”

We went to South America. By good fortune we were entertained by one of the prominent men of the country, a man who had built enormous steel plants and whose industries were growing rapidly.

During the visit Shorty asked our host if he played golf. He replied, “Señor, I play a little, I would like to play more. My wife is on vacation in the United States with our children. I would like to join her. I can do none of these things because I am too busy. I am 55 years old and in five years more I shall stop. It is true I said the same thing five years ago, but I did not know how much we should be growing. We are building a new plant.”

“Señor,” I said, “do you know why I am in South America?”

“Because,” he said, “because perhaps you had not too much to do and had the necessary time and money to permit it.”

“No,” I replied, “I had a great deal to do and I did not have too much of either time or money.”

I told him the story of the letter. Like Shorty, he made me repeat the words: “Enjoy yourself, it is later than you think.” During the rest of the afternoon he seemed a bit preoccupied.

The next morning I met him in the corridor of our hotel. “Doctor,” he said, “please wait a moment. I have not slept well. It is strange, is it not, that a casual acquaintance, which you would say yourself you are, could change the current of a very busy life. I have thought long and hard since I saw you yesterday. I have cabled my wife that I am coming.”

He put his hand on my shoulder. “It was a very long finger indeed,” he said, “that wrote those words on the garden wall in China.”

Shorty, strong and well a few weeks ago, has gone to his reward. I spent the last hours at his bedside. Over and over again he said, “Fred, I am so happy that we went to South America together. I thank God we did not wait too long.”

Frederic Loomis

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