Wissot: How do you define luck? Can you be lucky and unlucky at the same time? (column)
I was flying to Las Vegas from Denver 20 years ago. It was a Frontier flight, and in those days, the flight attendants would play a game in which the gambling-oriented passengers put their row and seat numbers on dollar bills. The bills were put in a bag, and a passenger was chosen to draw the lucky winner from it.
I put my dollar in and, as I invariably do, lost. But as the plane landed at McCarran Airport, I had this thought: How much of a loser could I be after the plane landed safely? I mean, how happy would I have been if I won the pot and the plane had crashed? Could I really have called my wife, Alyn, and said: “Honey, good and bad news: I won $102 on the plane’s lottery, but I won’t be spending it in Las Vegas because we’re about to crash.”
Luck is an enigmatic word. Just what does it mean to be lucky? For most of my life, I have viewed luck through the prism of negative avoidance. I consider myself lucky not because I’ve won the lottery (I never have) or came out ahead at the blackjack table or was the beneficiary of parking karma. No, not at all.
Luck to me is not having a drunken driver cross the median, not having the boulder roll onto my car as I’m climbing the hill on Interstate 70 westbound leaving Georgetown, not being in the wrong place at the wrong time like the tragedy which befell so many innocent people recently while attending a country music concert on the grounds of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. The avoidance of bad luck is good luck to me.
But maybe that’s just me. By what measure do you feel lucky? Do you have to be the recipient of good fortune or is it enough that bad things don’t happen to you? What about people who are on the receiving end of both? Is Stephen Hawking unlucky for being afflicted with ALS for much of his amazingly long adult life, or is he lucky because he inherited one of the great scientific minds of the late 20th century?
Were the 98-year-old-wife and her 100-year-old husband unlucky because they both perished in the recent Napa, California, fires (of course they were) but lucky, as their son claimed, to have died together rather than leaving one of them mournfully alive (“California firestorm takes deadly toll on the elderly,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 13)? Can you be lucky and unlucky at the same time?
You will have to answer for yourself. But I consider myself to be lucky because I have led a very fortunate life. I count my blessings knowing full well that countless others, through no fault of their own, have not been similarly blessed.
I’m in my eighth decade on this planet and feel very grateful for not being born stillborn, for not being killed as a child running in front of a car, for not being raised by abusive parents, for not receiving a terminally ill diagnosis in my 30s or 40s, for not having to go through the horror of losing a son or daughter, for not losing all my property and possessions in a fire, a flood, a tornado, an earthquake or any other natural disaster that our minds are capable of imagining.
No, you define luck as you wish. That is your right. I don’t see the world through rose-colored glasses. I’m not a cockeyed optimist. I don’t think asking 8 billion people to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” will foster world peace. I live in the same existential space as you. I just choose to inhabit it in a way that brings me peace of mind.
I feel lucky because I think I’ve been given more than I perhaps deserved. I feel lucky because the sometimes cruel, sometimes hateful, sometimes insane world that we all live in offers enough rays of hope, enough moments filled with kindness, benevolence and charity to compensate for the times when misery and suffering seem to be ruling our lives.
I also know one other thing. I know from my own experience that if you’re a person who is not growing in gratitude, you’re probably growing in resentment. All of the fondest dreams I once had for my life have certainly not come true. But neither have my worst nightmares. I take that as a hopeful sign that enough good has happened in my life for me to feel lucky, very lucky. But that’s just me. How about you?
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail.