Jan 08

Call Me Lucky?

In Brief—The author wonders if he has been lucky or if there is more than luck going on.


Luck or Circumstances?—

imagesAm I lucky that I am white? Am I lucky that I am an American? Am I lucky that I have a good education? Am I lucky that I have lived at the right time in history? Am I lucky that I have experienced good health throughout most of my life? Am I lucky that I have the friends I have?

These may seem like luck, but is it really good luck or is it more? Ralph Waldo Emerson has said, “Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” He has also said, “Good luck is another name for tenacity of purpose.” Others have said that it’s being in the right place at the right time. I think it’s more than this.

In looking back over my life, there have been occurences that could be labeled good luck, but after due consideration I believe there have been instances that weren’t luck. Here are some of them.

When I was a little kid, I liked to climb trees. The higher, the better. One day, high in a tree, a branch gave way. I was falling head down toward the ground. At the last moment, a thick branch struck my legs and flipped me over causing me to land on my feet. Luck?

When I was ten I ran in front of an unnoticed turning car. The driver didn’t see me, but I reached out, vaulted over the fender and kept on running. I was unharmed and the driver was no doubt swearing. Luck?

In my haste to catch an updraft, I launched my hang glider off the side of the mountain without paying attention to the straps that suspended me above the distant valley floor. To my horror, I discovered my error and gingerly, ever so slowly, placed the straps where they should have been before I took off. The flight continued without incident. Luck?

On another occasion about which I have written, the late afternoon lift turned into downdraft. I figured my only chace to avoid landing in the rubble below was to pick up speed in a shallow dive in an effort to reach the landing zone. It worked. I made it…barely. Luck?

After visiting the doctor for a suspicious spot on my chest, I was speeding down Santa Monica Canyon when I was pulled over by a motorcycle cop. In my ignorance over being told I had a simple basal cell carcinoma, I blurted out to the cop that I had just been told I had cancer and wasn’t paying attention to my speed. He paused, saw the look on my pale face, handed me my license and said, ”Slow down. You’ll live longer.” Then he returned to his bike. No ticket. Luck?

On my way home from San Diego and facing snails-pace slow-moving traffic, I pulled onto the paved apron and sped past the long line of cars. I was pulled over by a Highway Patrolman who told me I was traveling in an illegal lane. I explained and pointed across the grassy divider where numerous cars were speeding southward down the apron I had been on the previous day. The patrolman saw them, listened to my explanation and said, ”You can tell your friends you talked a Highway Patrolman out of a ticket.” Whereupon he got back in his car and I dutifully joined the slow-moving traffic file. Luck?

It is said that a person is known by the company he keeps. Essentially this means that people are similar in character to their friends. If true, then I have truly wonderful friends who have shaped the person I am. At a bare minimum, the individuals in my circle of friends are reflective of me and show that both they and I have good taste and discrimination in the folks we choose to hang around with. Certainly, my friends are thoughtful, kind, smart and add to the person I have worked hard to be.

Now, am I lucky or is it something else? In the fall from the tree, the circumstances of my fall were the governing factor. The lower branch was there regardless of my fall. Had been for years. Its presence was simply coincidence…and my good fortune. Luck? Possibly.

My carelessness in running in front of an oncoming car was compensated for by my physical speed and youthful athleticism. Luck had nothing to do with it.

My carelessness in the hang gliding incident was overcome by reasoning and caution. It was brains, not luck.

My ignorance and the compassion of the cop saved me from a ticket, nothing more. Luck? Maybe…

The San Diego freeway incident depended on my glibness, coincidence and a reasonable patrolman. Maybe I was lucky that the patrolman was working that day.

Luck, you say? Maybe it’s somewhere in the mix. What do you think?



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    • Dave Meyers on January 8, 2017 at 19:48

    The result of circumstance, intuition, intelligence, caution, proximity, fear, and judgement, are often written-off as luck. Winning the lottery is LUCK…..all else can be explained.
    We do use the word LUCK quite often and mistakenly in my opinion. Near misses are just that…Near Misses! Depending on how one actually manages to be ‘missed’ can usually be explained. One is smart enough to recognize the danger and step aside……so, that’s not luck, it’s smarts, or agility, or caution, or proximity……you get it. Luck implies a totally random occurrence with some sort of mystical properties…..like, perhaps, leprechaun watching out for you.
    Being born into what one might consider as good circumstance could be described or attributed to luck since one has know control over ones conception. However, I maintain that it is simply ‘Good Fortune’.
    Fortune and luck are often transposed. I would consider my particular circumstance as Good Fortune rather than good luck…..I think there is a distinction. But, the fact that I’m still alive, have had wonderful experiences, have good friends, a special person in my life, have food on my table, and shelter from the cold, makes me feel LUCKY! …..when actually I’m fortunate.

    By the way Don, I once stepped to the edge of a precipice with my hang glider and took off…WITHOUT attaching my harness to the glider! I survived the crash and the embarrassment…..pretty LUCKY, don’t you think!

      • Don Bay on January 9, 2017 at 10:24

      Belatedly, I looked up the definition of luck. Basically it is chance rather than one’s actions. The synonyms include “fortunate.” You and I are pretty much on the same track, but good fortune translates into luck.

      I read over my blog piece and was close even though I waffled a couple of times. For the record, luck depends on chance rather than one’s own actions.

  1. Being white is luck, being American is luck, health is part luck (genes) and part good eating, exercise.

    The branch is luck. You could have fallen off in another direction with no branch below.

    Your flight and almost accident are surely skill, etc.

    The point really is that there is luck, there is how well we find ways to use luck to bring us benefits, the situations where it is all skill or brains surely aren’t luck, but don’t doubt that luck plays a big part in our lives.

    Major example in my life. A professor at the U of Washington was hired as dean at the U of Alberta and he invited me to apply for a position there. I was days from accepting a position at another university. Sure, I was an acceptable candidate to him, but if he had written a few days later it would have been too late. Then years later my wife, who was then a student, walked into my classroom and decided on the spot she was going to marry me. I was lucky that I was single at the time, I was lucky that she took that course the summer I taught it. I was smart enough to know that she would be the love of my life. More than thirty years later she is even more so.

    I was a serious asthmatic from birth and suffered with it for many years. Then medical miracles were developed and I can live a normal life. Sure, I have to use the meds and use my head with my lifestyle, but my dad died from his asthma because those things hadn’t been invented. Luck on my part? partly. Good judgment, partly. both play their parts.

      • Don Bay on January 9, 2017 at 10:35

      Seems as if you are right, both as to the examples I cited and your own life. As I pointed out in my response to Dave, luck depends on chance rather than one’s own actions.

      Thanks for the elaboration on your relationship with Chris. Both of you are lucky to have the other in your life.

      If I’m late responding to reader comments, it’s because my computer is in the shop being checked over by experts. I hope to be back in time to respond to others who may submit a comment. Sigh.

    • Susan on January 8, 2017 at 23:08

    I don’t believe in luck per se.
    I do believe in creating your experiences however. I believe in a vibrational resonance. I have a great friend who lives in Sweden too.
    She is one of my dearest and closest friends who lives her life from a positive vibration.She pretty much keeps herself on a higher plane by being creative and helping others.
    I just love her so very much! I think
    You might know her.
    We all have the very same luck, staying
    In gratitude keeps us flowing into marvelous circumstances.
    What do you think about that?

    She is my great teacher

      • Don Bay on January 9, 2017 at 10:42

      I have no idea what is meant by “vibrational resonance,” but knowing and loving you, I have a suspicion that the meaning doesn’t comport with my experiences. That said, don’t change a hair. Keep being the gentle person you are.

      Yep, I know the individual you mention. I love her too and am lucky she’s in my life.

  2. P.S.

    Just in case some readers may think I’m a wierdo for getting involved with a student and to add to the luck angle there is more to the story. First, the student was 28 years old with three children so I didn’t rob the cradle. Second, we weren’t “involved” until she was no longer my student and she had graduated.

    And to add to the luck angle, she was sitting in my office chatting after graduation and my research partner poked his head in the door and said it was the last day in the fiscal year and the dean had just given us some funding. which had to be spent that day. We needed a research assistant and I pointed at Chris and said she would be ideal. We wrote her a check that day for summer work. It was only months later that she told me she wanted to be in a relationship, and because she was much younger I said no. But things developed and here we are many years later.

    The luck angle? The money had to be paid that day and if she hadn’t been sitting in my office we wouldn’t have hired her and we wouldn’t have worked together. Lucky me? You bet.

      • Don Bay on January 9, 2017 at 10:47

      Thanks for the clarification. I never doubted for even a second. You two are lucky to have each other. I’m lucky to have friends like you.

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