Life's Lottery


A week ago I heard the astonishing news that one of my cousins who lives in the North of England had won £1 million on the National Lottery. My Uncle Michael had telephoned my sister to give her the glad tidings. Congratulations were asked to be passed on and light-hearted comments exchanged about how it was “all right for some” and the inevitable enquiry made into how he intended to spend the money. I haven’t seen cousin Derek for many years but immediately joked to my friends that, funnily enough, I had been intending to look him up and see how he was getting on, and that, although I might not have shown it, he had always been my favourite cousin and someone who I admired immensely. I then found out the times of trains to the small town on the edge of the Lake District where he lives, and said that I didn’t think he would mind when I turned up on his doorstep, suitcase in hand, and greeted him like a long-lost friend: “Derek! Great to see you again! How are you?!”

Apparently, since the first draw was made on 19th November 1994, the lottery has created more than 3,700 millionaires and raised £32 billion to support charities and various projects in the United Kingdom. Looking at some of the stories associated with past winners, the sudden windfall has certainly changed their lives. Paying off mortgages, buying property, enjoying holidays, treating friends and family, investing to provide financial security and indulging in other luxuries have typically followed most lottery wins. Many people have also started up their own businesses. Sadly, for a few unfortunate folk, suddenly becoming wealthy beyond their wildest dreams has not brought happiness, creating rifts in families, disputes over the ownership of winning tickets and an inability to handle the pressures and demands that the change in fortune brings.

So money isn’t always a guarantee of perpetual joy. A couple of days ago my sister received another phone call: after a battle with cancer Uncle Michael has passed away. It is a cruel blow to Derek and the rest of the family after a moment of such promise and hope.

I started thinking of some words of comfort. This is one of my favourite passages which I read at my own father’s funeral (Uncle Michael’s brother) a few years ago:

“What is dying? A ship sails and I stand watching till she fades on the horizon, and someone at my side says, ‘She is gone’. Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all; she is just as large as when I saw her...the diminished size and total loss of sight is in me, not in her, and just at the moment when someone at my side says ‘She is gone’, there are others who are watching her coming, and other voices take up the glad shout, ‘There she comes!’ ...and that is dying.”

When I was small I used to spend happy holidays at my grandparents’ farmhouse only a few miles from where my other grandparents and all my aunts, uncles and cousins lived. Recently I had a vivid dream in which I was crossing the fields towards that house. The lights inside were burning bright and through the windows I could see all those who had died, over many years, together once again.

I hope it might be so.

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