Winning: A Perspective


I am a mathematician. I went to Polytechnic University after I graduated from high school. By the end of my freshman year, I had taken every undergraduate mathematic course the university offered and  earned an “A” in each one. I do not know if I was born that way or was taught to see life that way. Regardless, that is how I think.

I grew up less than five miles from Belmont Raceway. Each summer my grandfather would take me to Saratoga to play the ponies. You legally had to be eighteen, but back then, nobody really cared.

Each time I went to the raceway, I was given a twenty dollar bill. Nine races, minimum bet of two dollars a race. I understood probabilities without ever being told. I was six when I learned to read the racing form. I would wander around the park and stop and listen to the men talking about their favorite horses and discuss distances, track conditions, records and jockeys. A couple of minutes before each race I would go to the teller and place my bet.

I never lost all twenty dollars and frequently did well. All day, we automatically kept track of how we were doing. After the ninth race, I would settle up. If I hadn’t made money, I gave what ever I had left of the twenty I started with. I did not have to do that often. If I had made money, I gave the twenty my father or grandfather fronted my back to them and kept my winnings.

I have an aunt. She is a widow with a lot of money and can now live to please herself. She loves BINGO in a big way. When she is not traveling, she plays several times a week. She spends anywhere from five hundred to a thousand dollars a week. She takes BINGO seriously. Every couple of months she calls me to tell me about her great night. She wins thousands of dollars in one good night. I always congratulate her. I always ask her how much it cost her to win the money. She knows how much she spent that night and is thrilled with her “profit”. Numerous times I tried to explain that in order to know how much is profit, you have to keep track of how much you have spent on BINGO since the last time you won. She would ask why she would want to do that. It has been a while since I stopped trying to explain.

All of this to share how my mind works. I am not a pessimist. I am a realist. I can not claim “victory” without simultaneously knowing in every cell of my body what that “victory” has cost. Some days, I envy my aunt.

3 thoughts on “Winning: A Perspective

  1. I like this analogy a lot and I think it clarifies the dilemma we all face in our relationships, and how we struggle with forgiveness, especially in a capitalist society where everything is judged in terms of profit/loss. I’d like to be like your aunt too–maybe not in terms of playing bingo but definitely in terms of being able to accept joy/peace/happiness when it presents itself, with an open heart.

  2. LOVE this! I have been accused of being negative by counselors when it comes to my kids behaviors and lack of progress. My sons current psychiatrist praises him in a nauseating way about having great attendance at school. He tells him how proud he is of him for going to school every day. The reality? He IS going to school (driven both ways by ME because he cannot handle the stimulation of riding the school bus) because he loves gym and lunch and socializing and sneaking into the library when he knows he’s not allowed to. He is failing every class (except gym of course) and has straight E’s in every academic subject. His behavior at school is disrespectful and he gets lunch detentions for his chronic tardies to each class and after school detention for not doing his homework. I get calls/emails from school – sometimes multiple ones where I am being asked to MAKE him behave, do his homework and be respectful. All the burden is on me – he is oblivious to cause and effect, there is no consequence that matters enough to him to change his behavior. He has proven he can live without tv, video games, friends and a social life outside of school. The probability of my son “getting it” is very, very low. The probability of me losing my mind trying to home school him again is very high – that is reality, not pessimissim.

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