Horse Racing in Saratoga: Giving, Tithing, Sharing the Wealth. Food for Thought.
Something happened that moved me to think, immediately and deeply. And then it moved me to action.
I hope it causes you to think, as well–and then, to act.
After watching American Pharoah win the Haskell this eve, my friend Cathy Duffy took me to dinner. She craved Italian food, and that sounded wonderful to me, too. So we went to Mama Mia’s, in the strip mall on Route 50. At one end of the mall is a Price Chopper market; Mama Mia’s graces the other end. The two businesses are about 200 feet from each other.
I had chicken parmesan: two lovely pieces of chicken, and more capellini pasta than the Italian army could consume. I ate plenty, and still had one whole chicken breast left, and 90% of the pasta. After Cathy and I filled our hungry bellies and parted ways for the night.
As I drove out of the mall heading north to a different entrance/exit than the one through which we’d entered, I saw a gorgeous, black-and-grey Rolls Royce pulling out to leave the mall area, as well. I’d seen the same car earlier at the track–I’m thinking it was the same car. Either that or twins owned twin cars. Either way–it was a magnificent, huge beast of a car, reeking of wealth.
(I confess here that I love cars. I love expensive cars. If I had more cash than God, I’d own a Bentley Continental GT Speed. But I wouldn’t turn down that Rolls I saw today, if the owner got sick of it and just wanted to give it away.)
So I saw that Rolls, and noted that apparently it is not in this Lifetime that the Lord intends me to have a ride on that level. Ah, well. I continued down the parking lot to my exit.
And then, about 100′ away, I saw a homeless man.
The gentleman sat on a bench outside the Price Chopper. You don’t need to read about how he looked, or how it was obvious that he was homeless.
I just knew that this gentleman had no bed of his own–no new clothes, ever–and probably had given up.
Of course, when God allows such severe contrasts to enter my Life’s Field of Vision–at first I feel hit with a hammer. Then I sit still for a second, and ask Him why He wanted me to see. Really, to SEE.
The first thing was that, as Saratoga Springs’ Mayor, Joanne Yepsen, said recently is that most people look at the magnificent, clean, beautiful, elegant city–and assume that there are no homeless people in Saratoga. And that could not be farther from the Truth.
The second thing that came into my head was that I could not change that man’s Life. But I could feed him, at least tonight. I pulled over, rolled down the passenger window and asked if he’d like a nice–still warm–chicken parmesan and pasta supper. As he agreed to accept it, I told him to go right inside the door to Price Chopper, where they’d give him a knife, fork and napkins.
He thanked me, and I thanked God for helping me not to be so selfish, as to bring home that dinner when I have plenty in my refrigerator.
So it struck me that I should tell you about this striking experience I’d had–of seeing one gentleman, wealthy beyond measure in his Rolls Royce–and not 100′ away, another gentleman whose Life is in need of resurrection. And I wished those two gentlemen could have met. Two men–two Lives that could not possibly be more different–separated only by Circumstance. And possibly, by blindness to need on the part of the rich man.
I don’t like telling you about my gift of leftovers, because I believe that good deeds should be done without farefare. Just for the sake of doing good in secret. But if wrote this, and told you only that you should do something for someone who needs it, without assuring you that I’m willing to do the same–I’d look like a hypocrite: telling you what to do, but unwilling to do anything, myself.
So I’m writing this tonight to ask you to step just a little bit outside yourself, and keep your eyes and your soul peeled for someone who needs you. It may be something as seemingly-small as a meal, or it may be something much larger. But if your heart and spirit are open to seeing small Life Missions, God will show what you can do, and for whom.
And if you’re in Saratoga, for the races–whether you’re a local, or visiting from elsewhere in the world–please consider doing something that may sound foreign to your way of thinking. But give it a minute, and let this idea sink in:
I rarely bet anymore, probably because I’m a racing insider and have too much work to do to just watch and bet. But 10 years ago, before I was fully a part of this wonderful sport, I was a fan who was pretty good at betting. In fact, the summer of 2005, I couldn’t lose. If I needed money, I’d go to the track–play a $2 trifecta–and walk out with between $300 and $500. On one bet. Every time. In the first three weeks in August, I made over $2,000. At the Thoroughbred track. (I even won $538 one night at the harness track on a single exacta. And I know nothing about harness racing, except the name, Hanover, as a hot pedigree.)
Every time I went, I won. Every time I won–I tithed my winnings.
It was very easy to do: every gate at Saratoga Race Course had a lady from the Salvation Army sitting in a chair, holding a tambourine into which people could drop donations, on their way into or out of the track. Honestly, I don’t know if the ladies still sit there, as I don’t go in the regular gates anymore. But the ladies were there the summer of 2005, and dutifully I dropped my 10% into the tambourine. The ladies always looked surprised–so was I. I was surprised at how easy it was to part with 10% of something that I didn’t even have an hour ago.
You may be unfamiliar with the concept of tithing. Tithing is a practice whereby people give 10% of their earnings to a church or other religious organization. (Most religions acknowledge tithing, either as a requirement or as a Good Idea.) A lot of God’s Work is done on this Earth because many people tithe.
So what if we extend the idea of tithing, to that of giving 10% of our horse racing winnings? Would it kill you, to part with 10% of whatever you win at the track every day, to a cause that helps make the world a better place? It need not be the Salvation Army–it may be another religious organization, or a civic group. (The Race Track Chaplaincy of America–New York Division–comes to mind. Put the money right back into their work at the very racetrack where you won it, in the first place.)
But think about it: whether you win 10 bucks or $1,000–you didn’t have that cash when you went in through the gates, did you? So how attached could you have become to that money, in the brief time that it nestled in your pocket?
Just 10%. May sound like a lot, at first. But, like anything that becomes a habit–and that you know is good for yourself–it becomes second nature after that first time. And believe me, as much good as your donation will do for your chosen cause–it’s even better for your own soul.
You may be thinking that I’m nuts. Or outright stupid. You may say, “But I need that money,” and you’d be right. But I know that, as much as I need the money that I earn or win–someone, somewhere, needs 10% of it, more. So when I do bet, I tithe. I bet rarely, and don’t win big like that anymore. Two-thousand-and-five was one weird and exceptional year. And if I’d bet on American Pharoah today in the Haskell, my tithe would have been 22 cents.
I’m not suggesting that you do something that I, myself, would not–or do not–do. This ain’t my first rodeo–I’ve been attending horse races for 55 years. So I know that the rush of winning money, and thinking about how you’ll spend it–is a completely selfish activity. I’m suggesting, merely, that you’ll feel fabulously awesome when you win–and then you’ll actually like yourself even more–if you consciously decide to tithe your winnings, and bless someone’s life.
That almost seems selfish, doesn’t it? Tithe money–feel good about yourself. Seems to me, to be a situation in which everyone wins. Your tithes won’t affect the man in the two-tone Rolls Royce–but it can contribute to the very Life and soul of another man, sitting on a bench outside Price Chopper. You may never meet that man in person–but you will know–and God will know–and both of the humans in the transaction will end the day, blessed.
Race Track Chaplaincy of America–New York Division:
(516) 488-6000, ext. 4063