This past Wednesday, the Powerball Lottery’s top prize had escalated to an astounding $1,500,000,000. (I put the amount in numerals rather than words, to emphasize exactly how enormous a sum it was.) So far, as I write this, there have been three winners identified. But, unless you were one of those lucky three, the anticipation, hopes, and dreams you shared along with millions of other players will have to be reborn and nurtured until the next big jackpot presents itself.
Way back in 1984, when my wife and I were still living in New Jersey, the state lottery’s top prize was set at $1,000,000, which was big news. At the time, my wife and I, along with most other New Jersey residents, thought the amount incredible. Who could ever spend that much money? If we could win that much money, we’d never have to work another day in our lives—at least that’s what we thought at the time. One night, within a few months of the new top prize being announced, we bought a ticket that actually held four of the six numbers required to claim the million dollars. In fact, on that particular evening, not only did the first four numbers drawn match our own, but the fifth number drawn actually began with the same numeral as ours (to say my heart was beating heavily by that time would be an understatement). Unfortunately, neither the fifth nor the sixth number was a perfect match, and we had to settle for winning the unimpressive sum of $83, which was just enough to wet our appetite further, and convince us that our winning the top prize was . . . well . . . inevitable. And that’s when it started.
“Imagine how cool it would be if we won,” said Becky. “We could give five or ten thousand dollars each to some people who really need it. Wouldn’t that be great?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” I responded coolly. “We’re definitely going to win. It’s just a matter of time. But first we have to put enough away for the kids, and make sure we keep enough for ourselves. After all, we can’t give money to everybody!” (It’s a scientific fact that the male brain is inherently more rational than that of the female.)
“I’ll get out the address book,” replied Becky (she of the imaginative female mind). “We’ll take turns choosing who we’ll give the money to. You can even pick first.” (Sounded reasonable enough. But was it, really?)
We spent the next four or five hours hotly debating not only who should get the money, but exactly how much each of the designated recipients should get. We started at the beginning of our personal address book, and it wasn’t until we reached the letter “C” that the first disagreement arose (coincidentally, that also happened to be where the initial entry in the book was located).
“I think George and Korrine should get ten thousand,” said Becky (note: the last name has been omitted to protect the innocent). “After all, they have to put their two daughters through college.”
“Okay, that’s fine,” I replied, “but what about Sue and Chris? They have three kids, so shouldn’t they get fifteen?” (We were throwing around thousands of dollars as though money were grass seed.)
“They’re under the Fs,” said Becky. “So let’s not worry about them until we get there.” Needless to say, before we’d even reached the halfway point in our “little brown book,” we’d nearly run out of imaginary money—and we hadn’t even put anything aside for ourselves yet. So, we had to start over again, narrowing our selections and paring down the amounts as we went. Things began to get testy. “Why should your brother get as much as my sister? questioned Becky. “He’s single, after all. (That was true.) My sister’s married, and they have two kids. (Also true.) They should they get more!” Gradually, we were edging over the line toward incivility. And so it went, long into the night. Finally, around midnight, with tempers frayed—and completely out of money that we never had in the first place—we succumbed to sleep.
In the morning, we agreed it had been foolish to even consider spending the money,—at least until we had actually won it—so I cashed in the $83 ticket and we split the money. Naturally, I took $42, since it was I who had actually purchased the winning ducat (the rational male mind at work). “Fine,” said Becky, “I guess we’ll each just buy our own ticket from now on.” (the emotional female mind at play).
It’s been more than thirty years since that memorable day, and we’ve yet to win the “big one,” but our optimism and expectations have never dimmed. In fact, they’ve even grown—along with our patience.
So what would you do if you won the lottery? Would you buy a Rolls Royce or Humvee, or maybe a cabin in the mountains, or a place by the seashore? Or would you fulfill a lifelong dream of purchasing a professional sports team? What about travel? Where would you like to go? We’d love to know! What would you do with the money?
In the meantime, don’t forget to buy a ticket for tonight’s Powerball. Even if the prize is only a couple of million dollars, it couldn’t hurt, right? After all, “If you’re not in it, you can’t win it.”* Good luck, and remember that each day you wake up on the right side of the grass, you have won life’s lottery—another day with friends and loved ones! When you think about it, isn’t that the greatest prize of all? You bet it is!