I heard something flutter to the ground as I opened my book on the subway. Looking down, there was some kind of paper, and I leaned over to pick it up. It was a lottery ticket. It was definitely not mine. I am not a participant in this particular form of trying. But, under the transitive property of trash pickup, once it's in your hand, putting it back down is littering. That's what I tell my children, so I must follow the rule myself as well.
I put the scratched-off lottery ticket in my book as a bookmark without looking at it. A moment later, an older man sitting just over from where I was standing called out to me.
"I think that's mine..." he said.
I apologized, handing the ticket back to him, feeling guilty all of a sudden even though I'd thought I was being a good samaritan.
"Is it a winner?" I asked.
The woman sitting next to him, maybe his wife, maybe a friend, said supportively but somewhat suspiciously, "He thinks so."
He smiled at me with his few-toothed smile. "It's $50 I think..." he said.
"Wow," I said, laughing, "and to think I picked it up and didn't know. What if it turned out to be even more, turned out to be millions, and I had just stolen it and put it in my book? Sorry about that."
He leaned on his cane, slowly masticating a bite of the sandwich they were sharing around with his gums.
I handed them both gold stars. "For trying..."I said.
The woman barely looked at me, grasping at the star greedily. "Thank you, thank you so much," she said as she quickly worked to put it in a safe place. She turned to her gentleman friend, admonishing him for not taking better care of his star.
"She gave that to you for good luck," she said. "Put it in your pocket, put it somewhere...we need all the luck we can get."
I hoped, then, that she hadn't heard me say the stars were for trying. I amended.
"They are for good luck," I said in agreement, slightly under my breath. I'm not sure she heard me. I was long gone from the equation. In some ways, more than many, they were already lucky: they had hope, in spades. It showed on their faces as they stared longingly at their lottery tickets. I was happy to have given them even more.