Monday, April 07, 2003


Officially speaking there is any such thing as luck if luck is supposed to be some kind of force that brings good things to you.

What do people mean when they talk about luck? I’m thinking about this for many reasons but my lucky bamboo died…or it’s on its last legs anyway. Scary.

At first I was thinking—who would think of luck as some kind of magical force? But then that must be what people mean or else why would they buy things like lucky bamboo and not walk under ladders and be afraid when they break mirrors and such unless luck were a thing that could come to you or not come to you? Good fortune. I engage in the practices but don’t believe in them.

My favorite story from Herodotus is this one where a man loses a ring in the sea. Later, he catches a fish and the ring is in the fish’s mouth. Lucky, you think? No, in fact everyone on the boat says: “Oh, you are dead! You are so dead!” The Greeks thought if you were too lucky that would ultimately be bad luck. The gods would punish you. You weren’t supposed to be too lucky. The Gods would later punish you to even it out.

This is basically how I think: Everything has gone so well lately—what terrible thing is about to happen to me? Not only that but there is a kind of imbalance because so many bad things are happening to everyone else. What I really want is for everyone to be lucky. And also, for me, the ultimate bad luck is something bad happening to the people I love so bad luck for me does happen to someone else.

I was thinking of luck more as simply…a kind of allotment of good things. The divine reward clearinghouse. I used to make up these fake mailings based on the Publisher’s Clearinghouse that said stuff like: “You could get leprosy! Or you could win a new Winebago!” People might think lotteries are truly based on luck but you also might think they are based on statistical probability.

You could think of luck as a billion ju-ju-bes dropping from the sky. If the black ju-ju-be falls on you something bad happens. If a fruity ju-ju-be falls on you, something good happens. There are some things that affect your chances tremendously but they are things you often have little control over. If you are born on 5th Avenue you can expect almost all fruity ju ju bes. Not necessarily, but most likely. If you are born poor and in Sierra Leone you will probably get hit by a lot more black ju-ju-bes. If it seems lucky to be born in a country with the richest allotment of minerals on earth, think again. 99% of the people in the Congo might be better off without all those wars.

That sort of bad luck—economic, political, social bad luck—is created by someone. Unjust bad luck. It is wrong and we can change it if we have the will to (most people don’t).

Quite a lot of bad luck is nobody’s fault.

To be born in Europe in the 13th Century was not so lucky…the black plague. To be born in China during the Han dynasty was not so bad…they lived a long time and had lots of good art. You might be born in a very poor village in Siberia but be lucky enough to be very tall and stunning and discovered by a model-scout. The most unlikely kind of luck.

Pennies from heaven.

Of course we might think of where you are born as also being a result of luck. Then again, the ‘you’ you are cannot be transported to another place and time. I’m not sure what to say about that.

I wish things were fair, evenhanded, balanced. I want good fortune to spread exactly evenly throughout the world. Of course, I want an excess of good fortune so that there is very bad to go around. But if there has to be bad I wish it were more fairly passed around. Everyone wants to believe that what they have—if it is good—is what they deserve and what they get—if it is bad—is unfair.

We all get some black ju-ju-bes.

This is why I still believe in luck even if it really doesn’t mean anything magical. To remember that maybe nothing I have I deserve. For me, good luck has the exciting magic of winning some kind of lottery in the universe. That is the one benefit of seeing the world as horrid and dangerous: When the unexpected benefit comes your way, it can be quite thrilling.

It would be a much greater consolation though, if my bad luck, when it comes or if it is very bad would amount to someone else’s good luck. I’d be happier having bad luck if it had some kind of point--if someone got my good luck instead of me or I was in fact suffering someone else's bad luck.


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