the lottery

a (mostly) true short story

my friend won the lottery.

we went to lunch yesterday to discuss his reward and what he planned to do with it. we talked about different options, certain life things that would necessarily have to change. some would be a welcome change, but some would be hard. i gave him some of my thoughts on it. there were some papers involved, and interpreting them was difficult. i had notions, but referred him to some experts. he had a lot of joy about it of course, but he was already dealing with some difficulty, frustration, and even depression, none of which he had expected by coming into such a fortune. so we talked about that, too — questions that have no answers. it was a private conversation; i didn’t want someone to overhear us.

mostly we talked about how to maximize it so it wasn’t squandered. so many who win the lottery live wastefully. they become selfish with it, concerned only with what’s in it for them and waste it quickly. they may give here and there, but often only to be praised or to project a certain image or be accepted by certain people. but mostly, it’s wasted. then their lives go back to the same. or worse.

my friend didn’t want to waste it.

toward the end of lunch, he decided he wanted to give away as much of it as possible. he stood up in the restaurant we were at, and announced what he’d won to everyone in the restaurant. it startled some people that were nearby. it startled me. i didn’t know he was going to do it; he just stood up. when he had talked about sharing it with people, i imagined private conversations with select individuals. but no. he was loudly announcing to total strangers his winnings and how to get some of it.

the response was... strange. first, a few looked at him, worried he might be crazy, or selling something. most people just ignored him and looked at their food. many kept talking quietly as they had been. as my friend went on, even i wondered how much longer it would go on, as he recognized certain groups of people, certain tables, families, a long table full of high school athletes. i heard one grandmother shush her grandchild to listen to “the nice man”. some people were becoming uncomfortable (i was).

as it was clear he was wrapping up his offer, an older man at the table next to us turned to him and said, “do you feel better?”

“i do actually,” my friend said.

“great. can we go back to eating now?” and the man went back to eating, without waiting for an answer.

my friend sat down and continued his lunch. no one rushed him. no one leapt from their seats. no one invited him over. a teenage boy from the track team came and gave my friend a side hug and thanked him. the grandmother came over and thanked him, told him she was proud of his offer to everyone. another young woman walked by and offered her support. the old man behind us never said anything else to us. i wasn’t sure what to say.

but no one took him up on his offer. there were close to 50 people in this restaurant. and not one of them needed a piece of my friend’s good fortune? it seemed mostly an annoyance. you’d think it’d be welcome news.

in our town, a lot of people are already wealthy. or they appear so — by events they attend, the acquaintances they keep, the emblems on their car. i guess most people don’t want to hear about it, because they already have it, thank you very much. they’ve used it to build a castle for their family, and they live safe inside. others have it, and have used it as a weapon against those that don’t. if i were poor, and those were the only rich people i knew, i wouldn’t want any of what they have either.

some people have it, it has changed their life, and they are truly grateful for it. but they’ve never offered it to anyone.

i thought about my own fortune as i sat there silent.