When I turned 13 my grandfather moved in with us. He brought with him the foundations of his life: a guitar, a King James Bible and a cabinet with 27 drawers, each shelf stuffed with unscratched lottery tickets.
Once he got too lazy, he asked me to bring him his tickets from his usual spot. Naturally, I was not allowed to buy lottery tickets. But Mr. Simpson knew they weren’t for me. I’d come into his store before getting the bus to school. That afternoon, my grandfather would thank me, wink and say. “You’re cool. Today could be my day!”
He’d never tell me to give him the lottery tickets. He’d give me ten dollars, tell me to decide what I wanted to buy and I could keep the change. I went with the dollar option.
There were doctors. There were prayer lists. There was my frantic mother. But it all added up the same way to him. He wanted the things to make today, matter.
One day I arrived with two Cash Whirlwinds and a pack of Starbursts and our new associate pastor was there. Pastor Greg. He was younger, with two kids, from Pennsylvania. Calvary was his first job. Which is why he was making a house call. Like most conversations, I could tell that my grandfather was saying everything.
“Come, come, squirt!”
I walked in bashfully. I might have not been old enough to know that regular Starbucks are better than the tropical ones but I did know that giving my grandfather his tickets in front of the pastor might not have been the best move.
“Got something for me?”
I handed him over the case. My grandfather, who brilliantly displayed his set of false teeth beside his bed at night, wasn’t amused.
“That better not be everything!”
Sheepishly, I gave him his card, avoiding the look of the interested minister.
“Thank you, thank you,” He proceeded. He held up the card to Pastor Greg. “Today could be my day, you know.”
“You know, someone told me about your collection. I didn’t really understand it.”
“It helps me store up my treasures in Heaven. By rejecting the chance to have any on Earth.”
“Oh?” He was young. He didn’t know if he was being teased. My grandfather was a solidly good person. He wouldn’t tease his guest.
“Think about it. Some people give their money to the church. Which I’m all for. I’ve been a tithing member of Calvary for the last thirty years. Just so you know. Heck, you didn’t even need to know. But I told you. But tithing is just another way for people to think they’re getting favor with God. Which I’m all for. But God didn’t put us on Earth to reject enjoying it here and now.”
“Sure. If that was your thought, why not scratch your tickets then?”
“Good question. Very good one. Well, sir. It’s simple.” He straightened up in his bed. “Think about it. Every day, I’m reminded that the life I’m living in is the one I’ve chosen to live in. I’ve no doubt that there are thousands and thousands of dollars sitting in a cabinet right beneath us. Money I could use for another house or another car or a better doctor or to buy Alex a Russian wife or whatever I wanted. But in a weird way, I’m the lucky one.”
“I don’t know that I follow.”
“Some people don’t know what they should want. Which is why they play the lottery to begin with. Even if they’d won, they don’t know the car they’d get. I don’t have that problem. Because I’ve a car I like already.”
“Then why buy the tickets at all, Mr. Remington?”
“Because everything I have in life I didn’t work for. So I buy the tickets, just because something today costs me something. Look at Alex. He’s amazing. He’s a friend. And he’s just here! I live in America! Jesus’ love, as it were, is free. So when I say, Today could be my day! I mean that. But not because I’m going to win a million dollars. But because I pay $1 dollar. Or $2 dollars. I might as well make it my day.”
I got it. As much as I could have. All the best things in his life he figured he’d gotten for free. People care about things they pay for. So he gave himself a cost. A cost that would enforce the motto by which he believed. It was weirdly confused. It was brilliant.