It Took Me Losing the Powerball to Realize I’m Already Rich —
“Don’t shoot! Please don’t shoot”, the unfamiliar man said, as he cautiously approached my car.
I was parked at a local gas station, supervising my 12 year old son who was at the pump. A frail elderly gentleman limped towards us, feigning a disarming smile as he realized I would give him an audience. He moved slow, his clothes were soiled and tattered, and his face told the story of a difficult life.
“I’m trying to get together some money to buy some more kerosene to heat my tent. You know these nights are getting colder out here.” He went on to explain how he and several other people were living in a small wooded area behind the local grocery store, and how the weather was making that an increasingly difficult arrangement. It was around 15 degrees out on this particular night.
Rather than react dismissively as I would to a typical pan handler, my spirit led me to engage him. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any cash on me at the time (paid with credit card), a fact I quickly disclosed. I was surprised when he didn’t immediately make an about face and seek a new mark. Instead, he asked me if I would just be so kind as to give him a few good words.
My son and I spent the next 15 minutes talking to Charlie, as he later identified himself. He shared tremendous amounts of wisdom with Jr., reinforcing the importance of doing chores to build discipline, and deferring to the guidance of his parents who have significantly more life experience. Charlie emotionally described how, as a 62 year of man, he came to be destitute, forced to live on the street and beg for money to survive. He traced his plight back to an adolescent stubbornness where he constantly rebuked and disobeyed his parents, constantly zigging when they told him to zag, just to prove his independence. Despite his circumstances he told Jr. that above all, it was of paramount importance to remain positive.
“Don’t do like I did young man. When your dad tells you to clean your room, just get it over with! When you’re asked to clean the dishes and take out the trash, stop all that arguing and back talking, getting all angry. Just do it! You know what I’m talking about. And keep a smile on your face when you do it. All those clothes on your back and those fancy shoes you got, who gave those to you? You know what I’m talking about! Nobody in the world is gonna take care of you like your dad will. And if you push him away it’ll be the worst mistake you can ever make in your life”
The three of us shared a genuine, heart-touching hug, then parted ways. In the car ride home, I asked my son how he felt about the interaction. “Man, that was too real. I felt that.” I then explained that sometimes God uses the most unexpected messengers to deliver a message.
The next day, I was headed towards that same gas station to buy $10 worth of Powerball tickets. I only had a $20 bill on me, and promised myself that the other $10 had Charlie’s name on it, should the man upstairs see fit to bring us together again. Though I didn’t see him loitering about when I initially arrived, as soon as I finished paying my fool’s tax, I spotted Charlie doing his limp shuffle towards a frightened looking woman pumping gas.
“Ay Charlie!!” I called out. His head whipped around quicker than Willow Smith’s braids, his face lighting up like the White House Christmas tree. I told him that I didn’t have much time to chat this evening, but wanted to repay him for the soul-moving moment we shared the night before. I then handed him the $10 bill and he began to cry. We hugged again and went our own separate ways, me back to my car and him back to his grind. Then, it dawned on me..
Like many others, as illustrated by the line of lottery players wrapped around the snack aisle on the inside of the gas station, I was consumed by Powerball fever and the allure of winning a fortune. I had such a deep yearning to be “rich”, with fantasies of what I’d do with those millions streaming in my mind, that I temporarily lost perspective. But seeing Charlie react to $10 as though he had just won the lottery instantly grounded me. “Wait a minute..”, I thought. I’m already rich!
I was rich enough to throw away $10 on flights of fancy. Rich enough to offer a fellow man in need another $10 without worrying about how it’ll affect my financial status. Rich enough to hop in my heated car, drive to my heated home, kiss my beautiful wife, and watch my son eat two servings of meat loaf. Rich enough to still have leftovers for lunch the following day. Rich in love, rich in health, rich in good fortune.
When I awoke this morning, realizing I hadn’t won the Powerball and had to gear up for another day on the j-o-b like most working Americans, a brief current of disappointment pulsed through my spirit. Then I reflected on Charlie, my wife and kids, my full belly, and the fact that by all measures I enjoy a level of prosperity that billions of people in today’s world aren’t privileged to. I was reminded that although I didn’t break the bank with a sudden influx of extra zeros, I’m already blessed to be one of the richest men in the world!