Poker, lady luck, and the power of altruism

When I was a young boy of 10 or 11, my summers were filled with late nights hanging out in smoke filled hotel rooms playing five-card draw.  You see my dad was a traveling salesman; and during summers, when I didn’t’ have school, he would allow me to travel with him.  After a long day of calling on clients and eating truck-stop chicken-fried steaks, he would often invite over a number of his fellow salesmen for a friendly game of poker.  And me being his “number one son” (meaning oldest, not favorite, although at those moments it felt like I was a favorite), I was privileged to partake in said games.

I remember one such night. Lady luck was dealing the cards, and she was dealing all to me. 

I won big that evening. Six or seven dollars if I remember right (when you play penny ante in the 1970’s and you’re 11 years old, six dollars is a lot)!  

The next morning, as dad and I are heading to breakfast, our plans are to meet George.  George was a good friend of dads and one of the men that I won my jackpot from. 

“David,” dad said,  “You know you won pretty big last night.” 

“I know,” I replied smiling.

“You know David, it would be really nice if you bought George’s breakfast this morning,” dad continued as my smile faded a bit.  “George is a good friend, he’s always been nice to you, and someday, you might need his friendship again.  Since you had a good evening winning last night, maybe you could return the favor this morning.”

Dad didn’t say another word about it, but when the check came; well I forked over pretty much all of my winnings.   

I’m sure George appreciated the gesture, but I’m the one that won big that day.  I felt like I belonged now.  I had contributed to the ‘team’.  I had respect and honor and stood quite a bit taller.  Beyond even that though, there was a deeper lesson, one that has followed me throughout my life.  That was the understanding of how incredibly lucky we all are, and how good it feels to share the fruits of that ‘luck’ with others.

One of my favorite exercises is to reflect on all that I have to be thankful for.  I frequently do this in the early morning hours while mindlessly running on the elliptical upstairs. As I do, one of the first things to always come to mind is this gym: Bliss Climbing and Fitness.  I’m reminded of how lucky I am to own a freaking rock climbing gym in the state of Kansas! And I’m reminded of how awesome it is to live in a free and peaceful nation, where I have the freedom to pursue a sport that I know is not solving the problems of the world, but that I believe does change me and those that participate. 

Those are the reasons that I believe it is important for us as a gym and as a climbing community to find ways to give back.  Whether it is offering discounts to at risk youth through Team Caleb, supporting access to climbing areas, raising money for a local animal shelter, creating adaptive climbing opportunities for those with disabilities, or our latest, raising money for a local charity that provides health care to uninsured families; when we come together and offer our time and our resources in a truly altruistic context, we are reminded of how much we have been given and of how far we have come.  It makes us stronger as individuals and stronger as a community, and we all walk a little taller.

Social media and the news would have us believe that we are all narcissists and haters of all that are different from us.  And yet you and I know that  is not true. Yes, there are some bad apples out there, and they get a lot of press coverage when they go postal.  But take a look around the gym or your local crag.  That isn’t who most of us are.  Giving back, whether in service, or finances, or heck, just a belay to someone hanging out alone in the gym, reminds us, as well as those we give to, that there is still a lot of good out there; that there is still a lot of reason for celebration.

Thanks for being a part of this outstanding community.  Thanks for giving.  And thanks for reminding me of what an incredibly lucky hand I have been dealt.  I hope that you feel the same way.

Follow your Bliss,


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