307. Mr. Scratch Off


I just noticed him again, sitting in the alleyway outside my office. Early morning, bent over a lottery scratch off sheet, methodically rubbing a coin across the silver filmed boxes under which fortune awaits him. “Oh Luck!  Strike me. Fulfill me”,  I imagine him saying to the goddess Fortuna. He’s older, maybe 70’s with a cool ball cap on his head. Alone, very alone.

Now maybe it’s because earlier this morning I heard Otis Redding singing “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”, but the lyric … “and this loneliness won’t leave me alone” floats across my consciousness. Lonely and alone are not equivalents. Lonely is a qualitative state versus alone which is a quantitative measure.  As I walk by him again, I am not lonely though I am alone. I just left my monthly peer group breakfast book share. The six of us old guys had a lovely time and talk together, discussing David Brooks’ book The Road to Character. Good stuff. Good community, like a good cup of coffee, is so rare among men, regardless of the content covered, becomes awesome when layered over with the cream of a good book.Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay

My peer group is composed of retired therapists– one MD/PhD, three PhDs, and two MS guys. Average age is mid sixties. I’m the only one still working and barely still in my fifties, (okay, 59) and they thank me for paying toward their Social Security and Medicare programs. And you know what?  I find it a privilege to keep these old geezers going. There is a lot of experience and wisdom in those other five noggins that is freely shared because of their gracious spirits. I deeply enjoy the camaraderie and know we share a mutual appreciation. (And I’m not sucking up since they don’t read my blog, okay? Why you gotta be like that? Sshheeesh!!)

One thing I am sure of– these men are not lonely nor are they putting their hopes in lottery tickets or some other unlikely probability. They have been delayers of gratification, putting off the pleasure of the moment for the greater good in the distance. All served others professionally with disciplined grace. On top of all that they managed to make a decent living in the human services. That’s a pretty big deal by itself, but what is more impressive in my book is that these dudes are retired yet still sharpening their wits and expanding their horizons. Who does that? Only rare birds. I want to be like that when I grow up and out of the buzziness of the working world.

In his book Brooks proposes two states of man or Adam. Adam I, the resume man; and Adam II, the eulogy man. Achievement and competition come from Adam 1. Character comes from the second Adam as he soldiers through suffering. As Greg said, “There are so many pithy comments in these pages… here’s another.”  Page 15, “Adam 1 aims for happiness, but Adam 2 knows happiness is insufficient.” The Adam 2 folks Brooks describes learned to quiet themselves in the valley of humility. That’s a big valley, but as I recall my trek through Sabino Canyon, it was a humbling experience feeling like I was in between God’s majestic fingers. Yeah, humility came over me like a storm cloud raining torrents of gratitude.

My prayer was not for more or a lightning bolt of happiness to hit me. No. I was in the moment of joy, connected to the Creator via His creation. Luck had nothing to do with it as I sat in the shade of a mesquite tree with hummingbirds flitting over me. Not luck but blessings showered over me so much that the molecules buzzed like minute grateful cicadas. Blessings do not leave one lonely since they come from a relationship. Luck on the other hand is a piece of cold statistical probability.  Mr. Scratchoff could be a winner if 12 million other players lose. At the end of the day he will remain alone and outside a relationship with his material winnings.
“I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Watchin’ the tide roll away, ooh
I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time”

Perhaps more tragic is when someone like Mr. Scratchoff does hit it big, like the big game hunter who knocks down a rare lion only to have it devoured by hyenas as he stands by helplessly, he winds up emptier than when he began. What is not earned is lost almost as soon as it appears, my blogerras. So scratch it now– all or nothing– or wait on faith to get somewhere incrementally, no, sacramentally.

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