This time of year, approaching Christmas, I am always reminded of the Lotto. There is the Princess Margaret Dream Home Lottery, featuring way too big houses that I can’t imagine real people live in. The houses are always furnished by some name brand designer, and come furnished looking something like an Ikea showroom.
I once won a dog hair vacuum, lacking only the dog. Another year I won a pair of earphones. And yet I hope against hope, year after year, I buy just one ticket. It is a funny expression, hoping against hope. I think it means your chances of winning the house, are pretty slim.
And yet people need hope. They see the lotto as an instant fix for the troubles of life. Get into any lotto lineup when the prize has piled up unclaimed over a number of weeks. There are plenty of people getting out the credit card and buying in multiples, looking for that big win. An early retirement - a liesure life. Statistics show that this is rarely the outcome for prizewinners. Usually the money is gone after five years, on average. That after a few big splashy spends, some travel, a host of new friends, and not much thought of investment. I think the Biblical term for it, alluding to the story of the prodigal son, is life in a “far country”. One most people never see in a lifetime.
Truth be told, it would be stressful to win the lotto. You would have new kinds of family squabbles you were not obliged to think about before, because with money comes strife. Some family relations might be soured, as would be some friendships, if the saying is true that money travels in groups. You would have to find new people to match your splashy new lifestyle.
There is also the Readers’ Digest Sweepstakes. That is the one that is most on my mind approaching Christmas. It makes me think of the last Christmas my Mom was alive. She had gone through a rough three years tending to my Dad’s decline due to cancer, there at the hospital faithfully every day right up to the end, angry at the drugs they were giving him, and convinced that a good meal and some rest at home would sort him out. She was in a foreign country of a different sort, the kind you hope you never have to visit for real.
During that time, my mom, who it seems had little good to look forward to, got hooked on the idea that she was going to win the Readers’s Digest Sweepstakes. For anyone who knows, they are the questionable marketing tool of the last generation, depending on snail mail to get their missives back and forth.
“Mr/Mrs (your name here imprinted). We are thrilled to inform you that you are only one small step away from winning (large dollar amount) in our sweepstakes. You must only fill out this information form, and send it back. No purchases necessary.”
That is what they said, but with the claim came oodles of coupons and pamphlets and brochures for books, magazine publications, CD’s, box sets of classic TV, etc that made it seem that you SHOULD buy something. If you were old, and wanted to keep on good terms with those offering you such a wonderful prize, you might sweeten your “no purchase necessary” form with a few purchases along the way. Just to make sure.
And so it was that during the whole cancer ordeal, my brothers started to notice things gathering in the house. Parcels coming in the mail that contained things my mom would likely never seek out to purchase on her own. Cook books although she already knew how to cook, how to’s for hobbies she was unlikely to tackle. Coffee book tables of fabulous places and historic events of various decades. My mom never let the cat out of the bag. If she frequently bustled across to the shopping centre, it was cryptically, to “mail a letter” which sounded quite in the ordinary realm of affairs.
Once my dad was gone, the car went as well because my mom could not drive very well. My mother stubbornly refused to leave her house, and she refused to get any help. She had her usual routines, baking, sewing, and a round of friends from her former work. Still, she was not in good shape. She had bad legs, and a wounded spirit. She seemed confused, and largely disconnected from her own usual patterns, by the push and pull of seeing my Dad through his decline. We were worried about her and she stubbornly refused any help.
Calgary winters are not kind. Neither is the driving. To get across to the shopping centre, my mom had to cross 32nd Avenue, a four lane rushing maelstrom of cars and trucks blurring in both directions, never seeming to slow down or stop. The driving is aggressive and visibility poor in the winter. Not friendly to little old ladies crossing the road.
And so it is that I come to luck of the stable. What my Mom really wanted to win was the elusive Sweepstakes prize. For her, it counted as hope against hope during a very difficult time. It was the kind of legacy she imagined, peace, plenty and something to look forward to. A distancing from the kind of year we had gone through as a family.
My Mom did not have any lotto luck. But what she had instead was what I call luck of the stable, the consolation prize that comes in place of what you hoped for. In the middle of life’s busy affairs, when there is no room at the inn, there are those who find a place for you in the stable. It’s not the palace you hoped for, but it is warm and you are welcome.
Luck of the stable seems to contradict all those practical reasons why people should NOT help each other. It gives us faith that no matter what happens there are beautiful things in the world, kind people, and generally, hope. Luck of the stable is the hidden kindness that seems like it could not exist amist the blur of life, and yet it does.
My mom mentioned as if in jest that she had come across an angel. It was on one of her jaunts across the busy crossing in the dark and cold, making her way through the snow to mail off her sweepstakes forms. The angel, was a lady who stopped her car, concerned for her safety. She asked my mom where she was headed, and ferried her across the the chasm of cars rushing by and then home again. My Mom invited her in for a cup of tea and a good chat and I think seeing her cheered my mom up, more than many things that might come to memory. She told the story again and again.
My mom passed on two months later, and she did not win the Readers Digest Sweepstakes, but she did find the luck of the stable, the kind that the parents of a newborn, lost in a busy city amidst strangers found in a story from long ago. Hope against hope, can be found in the quiet and small acts of kindness which bloom perennial in the human spirit. I suspect that there is much personal goodness to be found in the world even when all seems dark and cold, what you find will be hope against hope in the form of unsolicited kindness from a stranger. And that is more beautiful and more statistically likely than a lotto win.