Have you ever noticed that some people appear to be lucky and others seem to be plagued by one misfortune after another? I’m rational enough to realize that most events happen randomly and I’m hardly superstitious but I still wonder how it is that there are those who seem to have targets on their heads while others appear to find diamonds in the middle of common rocks.
We’ve all heard stories of people who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and others of people who narrowly escaped tragedy. When the attack on the twin towers occurred on 9/11 there were countless tales of folks whose lives were saved because they were late for work while their coworkers all perished. I recall sitting with a man who was attempting to find his parents who worked in one of the buildings. He was an emotional wreck as he called again and again only to receive no answer. He became more and more certain that they had perished as the hours wore on. Finally he heard his father on the other line who explained that he and his wife had played hooky from work that day, something that they had never before done. They had marveled at the beautiful weather and came to the conclusion that it was a fine day for a picnic. They had been heading for a spot out in the country when the building where they worked collapsed.
Was it luck, a premonition or just a coincidence that they chose that very moment to so uncharacteristically miss work? Undoubtedly they felt lucky but there was nothing supernatural about their sudden decision to vary their routine. Some of a spiritual bent might claim that an angel was watching over them or they were saved for some grander purpose but believing such things leads to the inevitable conclusion that those who died were not given the same consideration and it calls into question God’s fairness.
I have always been taught that every person’s life is a series of ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies. Good times are as inevitable as bad times and often it is the individual’s attitude that determines how much positivity will occur. Hard work, determination and a willingness to keep trying even in the face of defeat often leads to success. A person who does well in life is always open to meeting people and seeking out opportunities. The odds that they will reach their goals improve mostly because over the course of time they have tried things over and over again. They are unwilling to quit just because the going gets tough. They take risks and often their attempts pay off.
Of course there are events that happen that are out of our control. Nobody chooses to receive a diagnosis of a terrible disease. We don’t go out of our way to be hurt in an accident involving a drunk driver. The people who perished on 9/11 could not have known what was in store for them on that day. They just happened to be part of a tragedy that was beyond anyone’s imagination. Bad things occur and unfortunately we sometimes become victims. If this is a sign of being unlucky then I suppose that there really is such a thing, at least in terms of describing the unfairness of such randomness.
I have known individuals who have endured terrible things and somehow remained optimistic. I have known others who are crushed by the weight of challenges that befall them. Some among us are more prone to depressive episodes than others, not so much because they are weak or negative but because they have a genuine chemical imbalance in their brains that causes them to be anxious and lose control. I have witnessed such illness in my mother, close relatives and dear friends. With care and medication they are able to lead normal lives but theirs is a constant struggle just to be happy. This is not a matter of luck but of vigilance.
I have often felt both lucky and unlucky. I know that being born in the United States gave me a head start that many people in the world do not enjoy. I had good parents and attended excellent schools. My extended family cared for me as well. I have never been abused and I achieved a comfortable standard of living through my own efforts and the encouragement of many people. On the other hand, I have sometimes felt sorry for myself because my father died when I was a very young child. Our family struggled economically. I was a late bloomer and felt awkward as a teenager. My mom suffered from bipolar disorder and I spent most of my life caring for her. Still if I were to fill out a scorecard I would have to admit that the majority of my existence has been one of great happiness. I have known much love and enjoyed many successes. I have little about which to complain. The difficult aspects of my history have been par for the course in the grand scheme of things.
I am not above collecting lucky charms like the little pigs that I purchase for each new year. I do so more for fun than any actual belief that they will somehow make my life better. I might just as well have decided to bring four leaf clovers, mushrooms, lady bugs or horseshoes into my home in the hopes of increasing my good fortune. None of them would work as well as improving my own attitude and willingness to put in the time needed to bring a sense of peace into my world.
We humans have a long history of tempting the fates with magical actions. We cross our fingers and eat black eyed peas. We wear lucky hats and use the same shirt in which we enjoyed a victory over and over again. We hide a rabbit’s foot in our pocket and whisper so called magical words. In spite of all of our advances in mathematics and science that tell us our charms are silly we use them nonetheless. There is something comforting in thinking that perhaps we might bring unseen forces to bear on making life better. It doesn’t really hurt much as long as it’s not the only thing upon which we rely. Rejoice when good fortune seems to come your way out of nowhere but understand that it was only due to the randomness that affects us all. In the end we are the masters of our fates. It is in how we react to the inevitable joys and pitfalls that we determine our own luck.