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Imagine That

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February 2019

The game played on their dreams. The payoffs were as big as their imaginations. So working class poor in immigrant neighborhoods shelled out hard earned coins on three numbers—hopefully the day’s lucky numbers. They didn’t care that the game was illegal. Lose today? Play tomorrow. Those immigrant dreams made racketeers very rich.

We know what happened to the numbers racket. Big government wanted its cut. What was illegal became legal. In 2014, Americans spent about $70 billion on lotteries, more than what they spent on sports tickets, goods, video games, movie tickets, and music sales. And whether legal or illegal, the draw is always the same: the thought of dreams coming true. A life of leisure. A chalet in the mountains, a beach house by the seashore, or both. Cars. Yachts. Clothes. Anything and everything.  All those imaginations running wild are why a recent lottery pot hit over $1.6 billion. But a pot that large can be scary. Not all life changes are good, which might explain why, as of year’s end, the winner had not claimed the prize.

In 1948, Shirley Jackson wrote about a different lottery. On a sunny June day, villagers gathered in the square. The kids played with stones and put them in piles. The men and women chatted with friends. A man brought the black box they had used for years. Arriving after others, Tessie Hutchinson chatted with the women before joining husband Bill and family. Waiting for the lottery to start, someone commented that the years went by too quickly. An old-timer crabbed that other towns had broken with the tradition. But before too long everything was ready. The organizer liked to keep things moving; people needed to get on with their days. The head of each household drew a slip of paper. No peeking allowed.

With the drawing over, the voices began to call: Hutchinson. “It’s not fair,” protested Tessie. Bill told her to keep quiet; rules are rules. Little Davey, 12-year old Nancy, Bill Jr., and Bill and Tessie each took another draw. Davey was too young to understand, Nancy and Bill Jr. shouted with relief; Bill and Tessie looked at each other. Tessie’s slip had the black dot. Two of Tessie’s friends picked up stones almost too heavy to hold. Someone gave Davey little pebbles to throw. The first stone flew, hitting Tessie in the head. As Tessie screamed, “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” the people were upon her.

We have no greater instinct than to survive. As tough as life can get, we prefer it to the alternative. We live for another day. The will to survive is so strong that we are shocked to learn about a suicide. And we are frightened when someone has taken another’s life. After all, it could have been one of us. It’s why man recognized the need for rules of conduct. They were means of self-defense. As civilization gradually advanced, man developed a moral sense. The Golden Rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you—was a rule established long before Jesus preached it.

For the most part, our current laws still reflect it. We outlaw killing and stealing and cheating, and in general would never dream of making them legal. Why? Because we like our lives, we like our things, and we don’t want them taken away. Laws protect us from harm, and we insist on being protected. That’s what made The Lottery so terrifying. Shirley Jackson imagined a society in which brutal killing became an annual tradition, acceptable as long things kept moving so as not greatly inconvenience the killers. But at least in Jackson’s fictional village, everyone—man, woman, and child—was at risk.

Sadly, we’ve created a real-life society in which thousands are legally killed every day—not just one person every year. In 1973, we legalized abortion. But unlike in the story, we villagers aren’t risking our lives. The game has been rigged. We’ve been exempted by our births from pulling a slip out of a box. We don’t need to “do unto” the unborn because the unborn can’t do the same unto us. So judge and politicians talk about “freedom” and “fundamental human rights,” knowing that as they throw their stones, the unborn can’t return fire. The village abortionists can kill for profit. As for the rest of us, we don’t need to concern ourselves with the unborn. Thoughts of their deaths might be unpleasant, but only if we stop to think. We just put it aside and get on with our days.

But what if the born had to participate in this lottery? How long would legal abortion survive if their lives were also at stake? Let your imaginations run wild. What if, so long as legal abortion existed, a born person had to die for every unborn baby killed? Think about those judges and politicians. Imagine them gathering in their conference rooms, standing in line to pick out a slip of paper, hoping beyond hope that it isn’t marked with a black dot. Imagine that abortionists had their lottery. For the unlucky one, there will be no appeal—just like for the unborn. Death will be immediate, administered by colleagues thought to be friends. Do you think those any of them would allow abortion under those circumstances?

Now imagine that you are a player. What if every day, you were at risk of being legally killed? How afraid would you be to wake up, knowing that today might be the day when you lose everything? All your hopes and dreams shattered. Everything that is yours taken from you. Everyone you love turning on you. How hard would it be to walk up to that black box and pick a slip? Safe today? Not really. The momentary relief quickly turns into the dread of tomorrow. And when the day comes that your number is up, imagine your screaming, “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” as the stones fly.

If we wouldn’t want this for ourselves, why do we allow it for the unborn? Because they can’t scream? “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” This is the law and the prophets. It protects us all. But then, there’s always stoning. We seem to be good at it.


Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois and have six children.

© Paul V. Esposito 2019. Culture of Life. Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted. Visit us at and on Facebook.

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