I was lucky enough to go on the final retreat of the school year this March, led by Mike Callahan. The retreat consisted of two days and one night and focused on finding God in all things. I spoke on literature. In the past, I used much of Tolkien’s writings, specifically The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as a backdrop to the idea of being in the right place at the right time and focusing on “all that glitters is not gold.” This year, I changed it up a bit and spoke about the song “The Gambler,” sung by Kenny Rogers
I imagined that the Gambler is in Purgatory, forced to ride the train until he can impart his life wisdom to a young man who is down on his luck. At the end of the song, the Gambler dies in his sleep after explaining how to not only survive life but strive in it. "If you’re gonna play the game, boy/You gotta learn to play it right…”
What is the right way to play the game?
Kindness was my answer.
Dr. Callahan has said it countless times to me as a reminder: It costs nothing to be kind.
Here is a song about gambling, playing for the highest stakes, and the Old Gambler doesn’t give a recipe for winning, but for playing the game right.
I imagine that this Old Gambler had the worst experiences we can imagine and did dastardly acts to become a winner and then lost it all; including, the ability to find peace. I see him selling his soul for riches and wealth and prestige and being denied his final peace because of his actions in life. So here he is, passing on his learned experiences to this Young Gambler and then dying peacefully in his sleep.
I realize it is strange to speak of death in the spring and at the end of the school year with all the summer days and nights ahead of us; but what have we learned from the past year of struggle and learning if not “That the secret to survivin’/Is knowin’ what to throw away/And knowin’ what to keep…”
What will we keep close to our hearts as we move past “surviving,” and move towards “living?”
My wife is a social person and I am not, I may have mentioned that before. As the social institutions begin their opening procedures, she wants to get out there and see people again, and I asked her to please be patient and kind with me. Please, understand that I’ve enjoyed my cocoon of safety over the past year; that I’ve enjoyed sitting on the deck and watching the early evening float by in her company; that I didn’t entirely miss the constant running around from this sporting event to that social event to this activity and then on to something else.
She understood, but she also told me that she will push me out of my cocoon if necessary, because eventually, face-to-face interaction without a minimum of six feet is important for her and healthy for me. A gentle hand is all I asked of her, and she gladly and lovingly will give it to me.
What do I keep? The closeness we’ve enjoyed for over a year.
What do I throw away? The fear that keeps me from being out of my comfort zone. “If you’re going to play the game…” It is all a game, and we can play it right with kindness.
Kindness isn’t a gamble.
Imagine that you trip and fall. How vulnerable do you feel at that moment, and what do you need more than anything in that instant? The Old Gambler sees the vulnerability of the Young Gambler sitting across from him on the train, “I can see you’re out of aces;” the Young Gambler has fallen as far as he possibly can, he is down to his last bit of “wealth” and the Young Gambler trades all that he has for a bit of advice from the Old Gambler, which in itself is the gamble. What if the advice offers no comfort? What if the advice is nonsense? What if it is the prattle of senile old man? It is a gamble. But the act of offering all he has to an old man on a train bound for nowhere is a kindness in exchange for the potential of a bit of sage advice, it is a gamble of everything or an offer of comfort to an old man who in his last breath has one more thing to say to the world. Both actions, by both men, offer a kindness to one another.
Is kindness a gamble? Never.
Matthew 25: 31-46 tells us that every offer of kindness will be rewarded. 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these of my people, you did for me.’”
When we find God in all things, the littlest act brings us closer to peace.
The Old Gambler knew something that the Young Gambler didn’t; we all owe a debt to our life, “And the best that you can hope for/ is to die in your sleep.” How can we break even in the gamble of life? “So I handed him my bottle, and he drank down my last swallow…” It is the little acts of kindness that we can find peace in, and when it comes time to settle up, maybe we end up with a little change in our pockets, however, the best that we can hope for is peace.
And somewhere in the darkness
The Gambler, he broke even
But in his final words
I found an ace that I could keep
You've got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin’ at the table
There'll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done