Most Thursday nights I end up taking "home" a lady who attends the same Bible study I do. I put "home" in quotes because she is technically homeless. I usually take her to a round-the-clock diner where she gets a cup of coffee and hangs out until someone takes her to the "24 hour Club," a place that provides mats (or a bunk, if you're lucky) to sleep on. She seems to have a male friend or two who she stays with periodically.
Our ride downtown is nearly always the same. We begin by chatting about how much she loves red soda and how she gets her fill of that at Smokey's (the restaurant where our Bible study is held). The conversation then turns to lottery tickets and how much she loves the lottery. Then she always turns to tell me she wants to have "pretty things" like I do. The conversation switches back and forth between lottery tickets and my "pretty things" until we arrive at her destination.
I can handle chit-chatty conversation about red soda. It's a safe topic. However, every time she starts talking about lottery tickets and her enamour with my "things," I get uncomfortable.
First of all, I don't like lottery tickets. They irritate me because I think they're a trap that provides false hope to those who are poor. The promise of possibly being a multi-millionaire, despite the odds, keeps people going back day after day.
I have finally given up trying to convince my friend that she has probably spent way more money on lottery tickets than she has won (or ever will win). I can't decide if she actually spends the money on the lottery tickets or just fantasizes about them. Either way, she knows which ticket plays on what day of the week and she has even informed me about seasonal lottery tickets (I didn't know there was such a thing!). Her obsession with lottery tickets drives me crazy. I never quite know how to respond.
I am thrown off even more when she explains to me (after I try to convince her that lottery tickets are a waste of money) that she plays the lottery so she can have nice things like me. She likes my car. She thinks my earrings are pretty ("and expensive," she is quick to add), even though they are the one of the only two pair I own. She likes the way I dress.
I always try to come up with some good reason for why I have what I do..."I work hard. I saved my money. I didn't buy lottery tickets. I went to college," I tell her. The words seem ridiculous as they come out of my mouth. So much of what I have is because of what grandparents and parents saved for me and what friends have given me. And despite my justification about why I have certain "things," the things I have are a little audacious when I think of what she and many of my other limited income friends have.
I want to justify myself. I mean, come on! Comparatively speaking, I live more modestly than most of the Dallasites.
I tell her it's not about "things." "Things" don't make you happy. But who am I kidding?? If there weren't some type of gratification or ease in having "things," I wouldn't have them! I'm not the one having to beg for rides home from Bible study or having to try to figure out where to stay each night.
I try to explain I have a good job because I went to college. To which she wistfully replies that getting a good education is important, as if knowing that is a good thing, but what good will that do her now that she doesn't have it?
The fact of the matter is that she can't afford even a roof over her head.
I don't know if my friend has ever worked. I'm guessing she may have some type of slight mental illness, though I don't know that for a fact. I really don't know if she is capable of working. My guess is probably not.
So I'm left every Thursday night grappling with the guilt, helplessness, and realization that some people are really struggling in this world with no chance or opportunity to get ahead, even if they want to.