Perhaps the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.

Rachel Naomi Remens

My maternal Grandfather collected his dearly departed ribbon at age 97. With that, he almost bagged the second of two lifetime goals.

When things got quiet around the house of retirement, he would let some of the visiting grandchildren know that he looked forward to scoring 100 years. We were spellbound with this aspiration.

His first objective; however, was to make one million dollars by the time he was thirty.

“A million, zillion?” asked a junior cousin always the one to seek clarification. Such talk about making money was news to me. Unperturbed, I carried on with the expert task of making the world’s longest daisy chain.

In nine decades, Grandaddy traveled the rocky road of entrepreneur beginning with an Illinois childhood where he gathered eggs, picked apples and built a fire for his mother who prepared breakfast before dawn to finally skidding into monetary worth, nearly one million earned in the 1920 Land Boom of Florida.

Alas, The Great Depression took him down before age thirty. Still I’m inspired to report that he paid his debts and began again as a grocery clerk in Memphis though the thrill was gone. His incentive turned to a simmer along the lines of comfort. In spite of such a transition, he could, at the ready, perform the Russian squat dance for visiting relatives.

I came to the other day huddled over a round of bubble tea which I shared with my husband and three of our grandchildren. As we compared and contrasted our beverage of choice, the conversation took an interesting turn.

THE Mega Millions Lottery had just topped a billion dollars, a curiosity my Grandfather could not have recognized because for him money was exclusively earned by hard work.

“What do you think of prize money? You buy a paper ticket that is numbered and if your ticket is pulled and has the correct number; you win the prize money.” I announced this with the intention to generate mind-popping memories not unlike the one my cousin and I absorbed at the feet of Grandaddy.

For good measure I also said, “This would be money you would win without any work on your part. What do you think? Guys?”

The incomprehensible amount made me think of the 1947 film It’s a Wonderful Life. Little boy George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) walks into a drug store and pulls the lever on a cigar lighter. By chance its faulty circuit lights up to affirm his passing wish for a million dollars. “Hot dog,” he says and grins as if it were the truth.

“Who GIVES the money for the lottery?” said the oldest baby bear.

“The mayor!” said the babiest bear. “Maybe the bank gives it away,” she mumbled.

Grandfather D detailed the lottery process to inquiring minds.

“What would you do with a billion dollars?” said I.

“I would quit school and travel the world,” said the oldest baby bear.

“What about school?” said the middlest baby bear.

The oldest turned in surprise and said, “I’d hire Bruno Mars to be my traveling teacher.”

“I would buy a sports team,” said the middlest baby bear.

“I would become a limo driver and open a pasta shop,” said babiest bear.

“Because I’m old (67 going on 97), I’ve realize that there are bigger things at stake. “I’ll write a check to remodel and expand the library and start a scholarship for teachers,” I said. “For good measure, I will also start a foundation for generous employment of small business to arm the county commission room with fresh flowers along with delicious meals to lubricate good will for elected officials forever and a day.”

The advantage to living out a full life is that a broader attention span becomes available and more inclusive landscapes become apparent. Wordy wishes glow with possibility.

I resist the urge to tip my audience off that it is lighter to consider others first.

When I was in my twenties, a glamorous mentor divulged her deepest desire to me. Around say seventy years, she revealed a yearning to have enough cash to pay the bills of those whose paths she had crossed in life. She added, “And I would grant their fondest wish.”

How odd the baby bear in me thought. Age appropriately, I began to silently unfurl all the treasures that I might sort and stack with such a fortune. First up a two week museum tour of Paris, then rafting trips across the world, couture dresses for special events, broadway shows on rotation, an eclectically personal library, a porch upon which to chat with friends and sip cheap wine, bohemian doo dahs, access to the best international tunes, the tastiest oysters, the freshest salads…..

But wait, such things have oddly materialized and yet as the clock ticks, personal ambition fades. The longing to fill others’ buckets bloom.

Once after the death of a family member, I noted a bottom bureau drawer filled with yellowed Publisher’s Clearinghouse stubs. What dream did this person have for the winnings? Conceivably it was that dab of fame that slithers forth when suits come to the door with a giant cardboard check.

Strangely I’ve crossed paths with a few big money lottery winners. Ultimately it did not turn out well. So the larger and more practical me never chooses pie in the sky. Still the gift of material things can be handy, particularly as my mother so aply editorialized: “very nice to have when you are old”. But to be clear, one can and often does work theirselves senseless for it or sits on it if inherited like a Cheshire Cat.

Though I’ve never won a material thing, my cup runneth over. Even as the path narrows, intellectual riches await unless before it’s over, I choose to plug the hole with bitter, baby.

So it’s my belief that all living creatures have won the lottery and here is the ancient analogy to illustrate:

Consider that a blind turtle lives in the depths of a huge ocean equivalent in size to billions of universes.
Every 100 years the turtle comes to the surface to breathe then return to the bottom of the ocean.
The probability of the turtle hitting its head on a floating bucket once surfacing is as rare as the chance of obtaining human birth.

If you stayed with me, you’ll breathe the rarefied air of a wake up call when it dawns upon you that everyone who has lived and is living has won.

So how to save wasted time for all the baby bears? Perhaps teaching full on joy by personal example or maybe by practicing the sentiment of Mike and the Mechanics’ “The Living Years” – “you can listen as well as you hear.”

Either way, our winning ticket gives us the ultimate chance to show love which is the chief purpose of life.

Just as George Bailey said. “Hot dog!”