It begins with the words, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and He will acknowledge and He will light the way."

Then it goes on to say, "This prayer has been sent to you for good luck. The original copy is from the Netherlands. It has been around the world nine times. The luck has now been brought to you."

All you have to do is make 20 copies of the letter and, within 96 hours, mail the copies to people "who need good luck."

Presumably some other text is to be circulated to people who need bad luck.

"THIS IS NO JOKE!" the letter says in capital letters. You will really get rich if you do as you're told. But heaven help you if you disobey this "lucky" chain letter.

Skeptical? The chain letter offers proof."

"Constantine Dias received the chain in 1953. He asked his secretary to make 20 copies and send them. A few days later, he won a lottery for $2,000,000. Carlo Raditt received the chain. He forgot it and a few days later lost his job. He found the chain letter and sent it to 20 people. Five days later, he got an even better job.Dalin Nairchild received the chain and, not believing in it, threw it away. Five days later, he died.

"An RAF officer received $70,000. Joe Filiott received $4,000,000 and lost it because he broke the chain. While in the Philippines, General Welch lost his life six days after he received the letter; he failed to circulate the prayer. However, before his death, he received $775,000."

From whom -- the tooth fairy? From whom did Joe Filiott receive his $4 million? Who is Joe Filiott? Where does he live? Who is General Welch? Which RAF officer received $70,000? Why would God heap such rich rewards on people who circulate a chain letter, visit poverty on truly pious people who love the Lord with all their hearts and souls, and pronounce a death sentence upon those who fail to perpetuate a superstition?

M.L. Kumshen of Rohrersville, Md., sent me a copy of this chain letter, copies of which I have been throwing into the trash for 50 years. District Liner Kumshen wrote:

"I usually ignore letters of this kind, but for some reason, this one unnerved me. I decided I would send my copy to you. Who starts these things, and why? It's like being threatened: do it or else!"

Another copy of the same chain letter arrived in the very same mail from Annie Graffam of Thurmont, Md. She wrote:

"My 12-year-old opens mail every day and calls me at work to let me know what came. Today she called, ever so upset, and told me I had received the enclosed letter. 'And if you don't make 20 copies and send them, you'll die, Mama!'

"'That's $3 in postage," I said.

"'But you'll die.'

"I thought of you. 'Nothing to fear,' I said. 'Bill Gold invites people to send him chain letters, and he breaks the chain. That way, he risks getting the bad luck.'

"'Do bad things happen to him?'

"'Are you kidding?' I said. 'He's 87 years old and very happy, and he's been breaking these chains for years.' That satisfied her."

Annie, I had a heart attack just as surgeons were preparing to open me up to put a plastic valve in my heart. When a person is destined to have a heart attack, is there a luckier time or place to have it?

Tell your daughter that I have already received a more valuable gift than money, and have spent it as wisely as I knew how. The witches and demons of voodoo cannot take away from me what I have already spent.

Gold's Law teachers that if a piece of buttered bread is dropped, it will fall with the buttered side down, not because one failed to keep a chain letter going but simply because of the innate perversity of inanimate objects. That's the way life is.

The truth is that it doesn't really make any difference which side of the bread is up and which is down.

A piece of bread that drops to the floor is no more unsanitary one way than the other, and shouldn't be eaten in either case.

What's important is the lesson: That which is done without the exercise of care and diligence is likely to turn out badly, whether or not one wears his lucky hat or recites a magic incantation.

Why not cast off the chains of superstition? File your lucky chain letters with the empty cigarette packages that provide kidney dialysis machines for Seeing Eye dogs.