Today, I was laughing with a customer about another customer that I had earlier in the month who had spent a ridiculous amount of money on lottery tickets. Two hundred and fifty dollars, to be exact. The woman stood before me as I recalled the ridiculous purchase, and shook her head in disbelief, followed by sympathy.
“It’s so damn sad,” she said, “Can you imagine what that two hundred and fifty dollars would have meant to someone who actually needed it, for essential survival, rather than to just blow it on the lottery? I mean, that takes real privilege to be able to just drop that kind of money on something like that.”
I agreed with her wholeheartedly.
“That woman must have thought she was special,” she said, with a sarcastic chuckle. “I think that is the most valuable lesson I have learned in this life.”
Confused, I asked her to elaborate.
“What I mean is, I am not special. I am not chosen. I will not be the one to win the lottery, and I am no better than these poor homeless people who I see on the streets every morning on my way to work. I am one poor decision, one serious injury, one medical bill, one traumatic experience away from being one of them. A lot of people think they are special. They look down on the homeless and their outstretched hands because they believe that they will just use the money that is given to them to support their addictions, but these are the same people who are quick to empty their wallets onto the counter of the nearest convenience store for something as whimsical and addicting as lottery tickets.”
She sighed, thought for a moment, and then continued.
“I am not special. I know that I could just as easily become addicted to something that makes me feel a little less and want to believe in something more. I am not special. I could throw out my back on any given Tuesday, be prescribed pain meds that are pushed on me by Big Pharma and form an addiction by the end of the month, landing myself a spot on the curb right next to the man with the outstretched hand. I could lose my husband and find solace in a bottle. I could drink myself through the holidays and find myself with nothing left to celebrate by spring, sitting there on that curb right next to that man with the outstretched hand.”
At this point, I didn’t know what to say. Everything she said had hit me so hard, I was speechless. All I could do was nod.
She smiled, picked up the Pepsi and the bag of chips off of the counter, held them up and said, “That’s why I’m here. I bought these for him. They are his favorite. We know we are not special, but sometimes, a kind person like him deserves to feel like he is. Even just for a moment. Thank you for everything, dear. Have a good night.”
With that, she grabbed her things, and left. But a part of her stayed with me — one of the most valuable lessons that had ever been gifted to me, by a stranger nonetheless.
I am not special.