“Winner! Winner! We have a winner!”
The ebullient sound of victory could be heard above the constant drone of the casino. In fact, the level of noise tempered slightly as gamers paused to take in the sight of a bald man at the roulette table with both arms raised in victory. His jaw dropped as he surveyed the enormity of the winnings before him – knowing this event completely changed his future. With tears in his eyes, he watched as stack after stack of chips were raked toward him by a portly croupier who seemed a sour fellow.
Several employees were summoned to help the bald man collect his good fortune so he could cash out. Each was tipped handily by the generous winner, none so much as the hand that had spun the wheel. The croupier’s attitude improved as his pockets bulged under the weight of the gift.
When the tally was exchanged for legal tender, the winner searched out a quiet place to rejoice and contemplate his haul. Beyond the rows of gaming tables sat an open bar that looked somewhat removed from the madness. The buzz of the casino resumed and seemed to have forgotten the interruption that had occurred just moments before. Aside from a few congratulations on his way to the bar, most of the gamers had already moved on from his win as they gave their concentration wholly over to chips, dice, and cards.
“Nice haul,” said the bartender as he wiped the bar in front of his new customer.
“Thanks!” crowed the winner as he took a stool.
“What can I get for ya?”
“Just a draft.”
“No champagne?” asked the bartender, lifting a penknife from his apron. “I’ve got a chilled bottle of Dom Perignon just waiting for a lucky guy like you. I can pop the cork in two shakes.”
“No, thanks. I’m really not the champagne type.”
The disappointed bartender put his knife away. “I love popping bottles because I can find the cheapest guy in the bar and aim at him. I’ve corked a few stiffs.”
The winner laughed, “Sorry, I can’t stay long. I’ve gotta get home and surprise my wife.”
“Yeah? She’s gonna be pretty excited, I’d say,” smiled the bartender as he pulled the tap and settled a foamy glass in front of the man.
“For sure. This changes everything!” Then in a newfound spirit of generosity, he raised his voice and cried, “In fact, a round of drinks on me!”
The nearby patrons raised their glasses in his honor with a cheer of thanks then slowly went back to their conversations while the drinks were poured and delivered.
The winner sipped his draft and surveyed the bar. His attention settled on an unfortunate man at the far end who sat alone hunkered down over his pint glass, obviously in poor spirits.
“What’s the matter with that guy?”
“I’m not sure, I suppose he lost,” replied the bartender. “We get more of him around here than we get of you. If everyone won big, there’d be no money left and I’d be out of a job.”
“Did you give him a free beer? Did it seem to help?”
“I tried, but he just waved me off.”
In his joyous mood, the winner hopped off his stool and approached the dour man in the hopes of spreading his good cheer.
“Hey there. Can I buy you a beer?” he asked.
“Thanks, but I’m done,” the man replied casually as he raised a cigar to his lips.
Searching for something to say to lift the spirits of the man, the winner settled on small-talk and said, “I don’t understand how people smoke in here and you can barely smell it.”
“It’s the air filtration systems they have now. They’re amazing.”
“That looks like a good cigar,” he added awkwardly, hoping to prolong the conversation.
“It’s okay. I’m not much of a cigar aficionado. Somebody shoved this one in my hand a while back and I saved it until now. This seemed as good a time as any to light it up.”
“I don’t smoke anymore,” the winner said, happy to have engaged the man. “My wife hated it so I started vaping.”
“Funny, a cigar is fine in here, but they don’t seem to like those things. A guy at my table was showing off with big puffs and the dealer told him to put it away or he’d call security.”
“So you’re a card player?”
“Not so lucky today?”
The man set his cigar aside and looked deep into the eyes of the winner for the first time. “I lost it all,” he said softly.
“I’m sorry to hear that. I’m sorry you lost.”
“It’s not your fault. I was winning for a long time. The loss kind of snuck up on me, I didn’t expect it.”
“Don’t you have to be prepared for the loss whenever you put chips on the table?”
“Sure you do,” replied the loser. “But you can never be prepared to lose it all. That kind of loss bites you with no warning.”
“That’s why you put some in reserve, don’t play everything you have. You have to keep a safety net,” he said, then added jovially, “My daddy used to tell me to hide tomorrow’s lunch money in my shoe so I wouldn’t spend it.”
The loser snubbed his cigar in the ashtray and pulled a long drink then said, “Safety is an illusion. To believe in a safety net you have to believe that you have some element of control. I’ve come to learn that no matter how much we think we hold the cards; the dealer is always in control.”
“That’s a cynical outlook on life,” said the winner. “After all, sometimes people win and win big.”
“Sure they do, but winning is out of our hands just like losing is; Neither is in our control. Take you, for instance. You won on a roulette wheel, right? For a jackpot that big, I’m guessing you put it all on a single number with the odds of winning at 37 to 1.”
The winner nodded his agreement.
“Me, I went all in with a nineteen. Do you know what my odds were with that?”
“Not exactly,” replied the winner. “Maybe seventy-five percent?”
“Eighty-five percent – and still I lost! I had everything in my favor and I lost it all. You just picked a number out of the air and won big. Who was controlling that? Certainly not you. Just out of curiosity, what number did you pick?”
“Lucky number five.”
“Because my little girl just had her fifth birthday,” replied the winner.
Talk of a daughter seemed to brighten the dark countenance of the loser. “A daughter? Tell me about your little girl.”
Even with the misfortune of the loser before him, the thought of his daughter brought a smile to the winner’s face. “Oh, she’s beautiful. She’s got brown, curly hair and a nose that crinkles when she smiles. She sees the world through these great big eyes of wonder. Everything she runs across is amazing to her – like whatever it is, she is experiencing it for the first time.”
“Sounds great. Really great.”
“Yeah, and this changes it all. We’ve had it tough for the past three years. But now… now we are going to live a whole new life.”
“I’m sure you are, and I’m happy for you.”
The two men contemplated each other’s fortune until the winner finally spoke somberly as he stared down into his glass, “This might sound strange, but even though part of me wants to run through the streets celebrating, part of me wants to curl up in the corner and cry when I think about what we’ve been through.”
“That doesn’t sound strange at all. You haven’t had time for this to settle in. Your win is brand new and your mind can’t let you believe that the hard years are over and now things are going to be different.”
“Exactly!” cried the winner. “Some part of me can’t believe that the hell of the past few years is really over.”
“You want my advice?”
Surprisingly, the winner found that he actually did want to hear what this man had to say. “Yeah, I do?”
“Celebrate!” charged the loser. “You run in the streets, hold that little girl up in the air – scream, holler, and laugh until you’re breathing too hard to run or your legs give out. If something bad happens down the road, you deal with it as it comes when you’re smarter and more prepared. But right now, you celebrate and you keep celebrating.”
The winner recognized this as sound advice and began to feel bad because of the extreme difference in their states. “I’m sorry. I feel awful. All this time I’ve been gloating about my winning while you’ve lost.”
“It isn’t like there are a certain number of winners and you took the last spot at my expense,” said the loser with a grin. “Our states aren’t dependent on each other.”
“I know. It’s just that I feel bad.”
“Well I can’t change how you feel. But I can be happy for your win even while I mourn my own loss.”
“I guess that’s true,” said the winner unconvinced. Then a brilliant plan entered his mind. He liked this fellow and truly wanted to lift him out of his circumstance. “I just had a great idea! I’ve got more than enough. Maybe I could help you. I’m sure it would be okay with my wife!”
“Thank you. That’s very generous. But you keep your winnings,” answered the loser gratefully.
“But I really don’t mind. I hate to see you so sad when I have the means to help.”
The loser gave his companion a most serious look. “You still think we’re talking about money here? I lost it all. All of it… I had a daughter once, too.”
“I’m sorry,” said the winner sadly.
“Isn’t there anything I can do for you?”
“Just one thing,” answered the loser as a warm smile of better days came over his face. “You take care of that little girl like I wish I could have taken care of mine. You hold her. You love her. And celebrate this win. Don’t look back. Don’t you dare look back!”
“I’ll do that,” said the winner resolutely.
“And when I say I’m happy for you, I really am. Even though I lost, I want nothing more than for you to win big. In fact, I don’t want anyone to join me at this end of the bar. Can you believe me on that?”
“I suppose I can.”
“Then get out of here and grab that little girl because if you don’t parade her down main street, I will.”
The winner patted his new friend on the back, settled his tab and left the casino for good.
For my friend, OJ on the occasion of his beautiful daughter, Peyton ringing the bell that signifies the end of her cancer treatment. Brother, I know you fear the future and are worried about your friends who have lost, celebrate anyway!
Casino photo: Ralf Roletschek – CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
16 thoughts on “The Winner”
You haven’t lost your gift for reaching others. Or for leaving me silent and thoughtful. I think what I am trying to say is that you have a gift which allows me to treat others better after reading your words. Not how I think I should do it “better” – but an insight into being different to how I was. Not many people can do that. Thank you.
Thank you, Paul. That means a great deal to me. I’ve learned a lot about treating other people through the course of this and I hope I do it better now. I “see” more around me for sure and react to what I see more. Engaging in humanity is the start of something special.
Wow, Mark, you have such a gift with words. Thank you for sharing your gift with others. This was a beautiful, heart-breaking story. I have been following Peyton’s story for a long time & we rejoice with her family that they have made it to this finish line, while holding your sweet family close to our hearts as you continue to miss precious Kylie. Praying God continues to meet you, Robin, and the girls right where you are every step of this journey.
Thank you Janet. It is so sweet to see her win. Hard too, because we have to be jealous of good news since we never got any. But we truly rejoice in good news for other kids.
Some “winners” are losers because they don’t realize the important gifts they already have. Whilst some “losers” are total winners because they know what’s important even if they only have it a short time. You, my friend, are one of the blessed “losers” and your “winnings” have a value beyond measure.
Thank you. I’ll win someday when I see her again. But for now, I’ll tell everyone I can about how much of a loser I am. (you get that?)
Oh Mark, the tears won’t stop coming. So much emotion in my heart. Thank you for your inspired words.
Sorry I made you cry… (not really). Tears are part of this walk we find ourselves on, aren’t they? Bless you, Sheree.
Mark Myers, My friend. I can never say as eloquently as you, all that I want to say. You brought a cleansing of tears for me today. A washing that my soul needed. I wept as I have not in months. I wept the dripping tears of anguish and sorrow. The sorrow of all that childhood cancer has stolen from my friends, my family, my wife, and mostly, our sweet Peyton. I wept the tears of grief, for those children whom cancer stole their lives, especially those families we know personally. I wept tears of overwhelming unworthiness of having such a great man as you, to call my friend. You genuinely caught me off guard, when you have been so busy fighting the world, and took the time to care about me and give me the gift of this story. You said what I wanted to feel, and that allowed me to feel it. You said what I know, many of my friends who have lost their child wanted me to know. You included details that only you and I understood, and it meant so much that you, not only listened, but remembered the conversations that defined our friendship for me. Mostly, you gave me the cleansing tears of joy; the only kind of tears I have not cried on this journey. Thank you for that gift. In the story of my life, you will be remembered. Thank you for loving me and my family. We love yours as well. I am sorry for what you will never get to quit going through, and grateful you have given me the permission I needed to celebrate our victory, while surrounded by so many friends who never got to. Although our battle is drawing to an end, I promise to never quit fighting along side you. You are truly my friend, and I love you. Peyton’s Daddy.
Oh Mark, I hate that you are at that end of the bar and I love that OJ is at his end. As usual, your blog is poignantly written revealing truth from both sides. You captured the joy yet fear of winning. The pain of losing and desire of the losers that no one else loses. Love that you told OJ to celebrate big. It is key. No one knows what the future holds, and we certainly don’t control it, but in the here and now we mourn with those who mourn and celebrate with those who celebrate. There is much anguish in celebrating when those you love cannot and will not ever be able celebrate what you are celebrating.
Yet it is what we all fight for, work so hard for and shed so many tears for–to celebrate. We need to be better at celebrating. Thank you for the reminder.
And I hope you took a shower and brushed your teeth when you got home. Cigars—nasty! Love YOU and your family so very much.
(oh, I am sure Robin would have fun with the the red pen with this posts!)
Thanks, Dean. She is beautiful, but pretty heartless with the red pen! I don’t show her posts often anymore. It hurts too much.
Mark you are such a talented writer. God bless the little girl who got to ring her bell…
Thank you… And yes, bless little Peyton.
this is beautiful and inspiring throughout, mark.
Thank you Beth. I have truly been enjoying your trip to Ireland.
You write so beautifully. This was eloquent beyond words. Thank you for sharing this story and your talent with all of us. @sheilamgood at Cow Pasture Chronicles