Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Winning the Lottery

How many times have you found yourself trapped or engaged in the hypothetical game of "If I Won the Lottery..."?

In my whole life, I've purchased lottery tickets twice, but I've found myself in the "If I Won the Lottery" game dozens upon dozens of times. Sometimes it goes by the name "If I Won the World Series of Poker," or "If A Mystery Uncle Died and Made Me Sole Inheritor," or whatever. Point is, you don't have to play the lottery to play the If I Won game.

Even for those who aren't obsessed with money, it's an appealing game to play, because magic imaginary influxes of great wealth aren't as often about the money as they are about the freedom that comes from money no longer being a barrier to anything.

Would you... quit your job? start a business or a charity? give money to some Big Cause? take all of your friends on some cruise around the world, or to Vegas, or to some tropical isle?

Would you... buy your mom that house? hire an investment advisor immediately? store money into separate untouchable accounts for your parents or spouse or children? endow your own job?

C'mon. You've played the game. We all have. It's OK if you are thinking that you never liked the game, that you only play along because you don't want to be the spoilsport.

An acquaintance of mine won the lottery last week for real. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Only 1.5% of the population will get pancreatic cancer. Women are less likely. Women under 50 are much less likely. Smoking -- shocker -- doesn't help your chances.

Why are we all so experienced with playing "If I Won the Lottery..." but so completely inexperienced with "If I Won the Death Lottery..."? What if, instead of fantasizing about how we would spend that $20 Million we won thanks to some magic ticket, we fantasized about how we would handle being told we wouldn't live to see Valentine's Day, or July 2014? What if we played the game where we had to approach this coming Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday as the last time we might ever experience them?

Once you get bored with that game, you can mix it up by playing "If _(friend/loved one)_ Won The Death Lottery"! How would you manage finding out your spouse had a year to live? What if your child developed inoperable cancer? A parent? Your boss? Someone you supervise? Your former best friend who has drifted away from you for reasons significant or petty?

This game has endless variations! Endless outcomes!

"If I Won The Death Lottery" and "If _________ Won the Death Lottery" aren't a barrel of laughs, I grant you. Few stable people want to sit around at a party escaping the tedious nature of life by discussing the what ifs of a finite existence while swigging from a red Solo cup. Yet these are the games we should be playing. These are the games that can prepare us for what isn't a lottery, isn't a question of chance or luck, but rather for what is all but inevitable.

We're such a worry-wart culture. We worry and fret and stress about everything. Yet when it comes to the one thing in life that is truly a guarantee, we do everything we can to avoid thinking about it, planning for it, preparing ourselves to handle it. We won't allow ourselves to think about our own mortality until the fuse is officially lit, and we most certainly can't allow ourselves to consider it for loved ones.

In conversations following the revelation of our friend’s cancer, talk inevitably centers around her having never been married, having no children. Is it worse to face this uphill battle with only older parents and a few friends to support you? Or is it worse to face the thought of putting a spouse or children through the struggle, through the likely outcome?

Perhaps nothing we do, no games we play, can truly prepare us for that knock on our door. But as sure as we breathe, we know that’s the one guest we must eventually welcome in. We oughtta be a little bit more open to wondering if and how we might prepare to be a good host.

1 comment:

Marty Granoff said...

It shouldn't be much of a worry. The millions of dollars would seem too audacious a prize, yet the actual payouts are often dragged out by time. Though there is a way to get it all as a lump sum by simply contacting agencies that will help you get it all in one piece.

Marty Granoff