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KATY LEMAY/The Globe and Mail

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I work in customer service at a grocery store, where I'm trained to sell lottery tickets and solve problems. What I wasn't trained for, though perhaps I should have been, is to be a therapist.

Apparently people mistake "customer service" for "counselling services" (I can see the similarities). If I could do therapy I'd only ask half price, though, because I'm not very good at it.

For the longest time, I couldn't figure out why customers would come in and unload their problems to a complete stranger.

But I've figured it out now. It's hope: hope that when they're having a bad day, they could win the lottery. Hope that what's plaguing them will disappear when they win the millions.

It's a hope I see dashed 100 times every day.

A lady came into the store recently. As always, I said: "Hi there, how are you?" A generic question to which one is expected to reply: "Good," or "Great, how are you?"

But here in "counselling services" she answered: "Well, I just lost a family member, the third one in eight months. It's been very hard."

She went on to explain she was buying a lottery ticket because she believed she was due for some good luck.

The employee in me nodded and said, "Well, I wish you good luck."

The half-price therapist in me wanted to say, "And how does that make you feel?"

The real me wanted to say, "Oh honey, this is not the place you should come if you want good news. The lottery is not where you should look to make your worries go away."

People need to start looking for hope in better places.

It's heartbreaking to see elderly people come in every week, playing the same lottery they've played their entire lives, hoping for something better than what they've got.

Human nature is a funny thing. People can let go of the hope that a loved one will recover from a terminal disease. But they never lose hope that they will win the jackpot. The probabilities of both events are similar: one in millions.

Is it because we often hear about those who won the lottery and rarely about those who recovered from a disease when the doctors thought it was impossible?

Sometimes I don't even think it's the money people are hoping for, but the idea that their luck has changed.

An older lady comes in every once in a while, and I noticed recently that she had a gauze pad taped to the side of her face.

The employee in me said, "Would you like Encore with that?"

The cheap therapist in me wanted to say, "How do you feel about that?"

The real me wanted to give her a big hug and say, "This is not the place where your luck is going to change."

Another elderly lady in line started chatting with the first one. She asked what was with the bandage on her face.

This is why I like the elderly. They aren't afraid to offend, and they've lived long enough to understand that if you want to know something you have to ask.

"I had to get some skin taken off my face, so they could do some tests."

We knew who "they" were; that went without saying.

"Well, I have a friend who recently had tests done because they saw something on her lung," the second woman said. "She got the call today. They think it is just scar tissue. Great news. So you know what I did? I gave her a hug."

The two ladies looked at each other and smiled.

Just before the second lady left she turned and said, "Here, let me give you a hug, too."

Now, if that genuine act of kindness doesn't give you hope for better things, then go ahead and keep hoping for those millions and being disappointed when you lose.

I wasn't much of a therapist on that one, because I felt more like the patient on my way to self-discovery. I saw that good things can happen, and you don't need to win the lottery to change the way you look at your life.

I wish I could have shown the gentleman who came in today that kind of hope.

He was looking to win the $50-million, hoping for his luck to change.

We went through the motions, then he said: "My father is missing, so I'm heading up to find him."

That was a new one: a real heart crusher. He went on to explain it was very unlike his father to just disappear.

The employee in me said, "I'm sorry to hear that; $6 please."

The therapist in me knew he needed to talk, and wanted to say, "How does that make you feel?"

What the real me thought was: "Where is that nice lady with a heartwarming story of how she got a call saying her friend has been found? Where is her magical hug, full of the right kind of hope, when you need it most?"

Jessie Worobey lives in Beaverton, Ont.

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