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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Winning the Powerball jackpot could ruin your life

After Saturday night's rollover from a $950 million

After Saturday night's rollover from a $950 million jackpot, Wednesday's drawing will be worth $1.5 billion, according to a lottery official. Credit: Getty Images / Mario Tama

I imagine by today God is rather sick of the endless stream of prayers streaming in. I picture a harried but awesome afterlife secretary, maybe Patsy Cline or George Burns, bursting into the office and saying, “Ma’am, I know you wanted to visit with Mr. Bowie, but I’ve got 6 million messages about the $1.5 billion lottery jackpot out here. Also, one about a debate from Rand Paul, but I don’t think it’s important.”

For my part, along with my wish that I win Powerball, alone or as part of my office group, comes another prayer: “Please, Lord, don’t let me be like Jack Whittaker. And if I am like Jack Whittaker, then don’t let me win.”

Whittaker was a 55-year-old contractor from West Virginia who became one of the first huge jackpot winners, nailing a $314.9 million Powerball prize on Christmas Eve 2002. Whittaker was a self-made millionaire with more than 100 employees at his water and sewer pipe company. He’d been happily married for 35 years. After winning, he gave money and homes to his family, and immediately donated $7 million to build two churches and $14 million to create a foundation to help those in need.

A few years later, Whittaker was divorced, his daughter was found dead, with no cause of death ever announced, and his granddaughter was dead of a drug overdose.

Whittaker went to rehab for substance abuse, and has been arrested, sued, robbed and lost every relationship he cared about. He wishes he’d just thrown away the ticket.

There are so many lottery winners whose lives are disasters that it seems like the norm. Why do I think I’d be different enough to avoid such a fate?

To me the hardest lesson in life, the one I need to relearn every day, is that I am just like everybody else. I may think I’m special, but if I were any less special, they’d make a documentary about my ordinariness.

When I was engaged and I saw married people basing their relationships on conversations about the thermostat, the bank balance and whether Yankees-Red Sox games can be considered “important viewing” when they happen 18 times a year, I thought, “We won’t be like that because we have a wondrous, special love.”

When I was childless and I saw kids cry, throw tantrums and refuse to eat anything other than chicken fingers chased with shots of honey mustard, I thought, “My child will never be like this, because I read part of an article about child rearing in a dentist’s office in 1987 and I’m going to be a wondrous, special dad.”

But fast-forward to today and a significant percentage of conversations with my wife include, “Why is it so cold in here?” “Why don’t we have money?” and “Why do the Red Sox play the Yankees every day for six months? That’s not a sport, it’s an argument.”

And my daughter’s blood did, at age 7, test out at 96 percent chicken fingers and honey mustard.

So I mostly accept that if I do what other people do, I’m going to get the exact results they get. And I know I’m capable of ending up alone, in and out of jail, broke, selling bodily organs to make ends meet, left only with a full-back tattoo that screams, “Ask Me How Rich I Am.”

I don’t even need to win the lottery for that to be a risk. With my family genetics and track record, we’d call that a midlife crisis.

But my life is pretty good now. And so many people are so destroyed by windfalls.

So I compromised and bought some Powerball tickets in the office pool. This way, if we win, I have to share. So I’ll know some people from whom to borrow when my money runs out.

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.