Luck & its infinite forms… by David Tanklefsky
This kid I went to middle school with won the lottery a few years ago. 107 million dollars. Fervent emails were exchanged amongst my friends RE: CAN U BELIEVE [name redacted]?!?!? WHAT A LUCKY !@#$. We lamented his planned uses for the money, as told to a local TV station: playing golf, buying a ridiculous car, playing more golf. We complemented each other for using the money “If-Only-We-Had-Won” to start a socially-conscious graphic design company, to travel the world feeding indigenous populations, to save baby [name of animals whose progeny is Most In Need of Saving]. Not winning the lottery was [sigh] such…a…bummer. To add salt to our wounds, this kid’s father, as it turned out, was the President of a gigantic hotel chain that you’ve definitely heard of and was worth tens millions of dollars. Some people have all the luck.
Sometimes I just stop for a minute and contemplate the insanely low odds of being alive in this country at this moment in time. Given all the possible war-torn, brutal, autocratic locales across the Earth that we could have been born in (forget about throughout human history), to be living in a place with (relative) peace, (relative) freedom and clean drinking water is a miracle on par with winning the lottery. Right now there are 1 billion kids living in poverty. There are 2.6 billion people without basic sanitation. Almost one-third of the 7 billion people on Earth at this moment are living in a country ravaged by conflict. There are, to be sure, serious issues in this country and the people nominally in charge of this social experiment are often woefully, tragically misguided but it sucks here way, way, way, way less than basically anywhere else ever. Which is to say, it probably doesn’t suck at all and I wouldn’t want to be re-born, take my chances and find out.
It’s easy to point to these big ideas and harangue people for taking our most basic privileges for granted, but we’re all guilty of it. Ours is a society of constant comparison. It’s easy and acceptable to look at the person ahead of us on the food chain, either due to their own hard-work (lottery kid’s dad) or the accident of birth (lottery kid himself), with envy. But it doesn’t really get us anywhere and it obscures the good fortune we’ve had ourselves.
Given the day-to-day, minute-by-minute stresses of contemporary life, it’s excusable to forget to look around and be thankful, basically until we die. I once worked in a newsroom with a reporter who I was convinced had never taken a deep breath, had never looked around at the wonder of it all, ever. She rushed into the studio, bemoaning a delinquent babysitter or a delayed subway and rushed out into the field. I used to joke that she would literally rush into her casket wondering if she could get into the box before the undertaker closed for the day. I don’t think she knows how good she has it. It’s not actually that funny. It’s sad.
For me, there’s one piece of luck I view as more fortuitous than being born in this country at this time and that was being born to my parents. They cared for me, led by example, and loved me unconditionally since day one. They are simply two of the most honorable and decent people I’ve ever met. I am certainly not naive enough to believe that even half of the children in my generation grew up with anything near the stability and comfort I did. I did not feel lucky when I was growing up and my mom excoriated me for not doing my homework or that one time in high school when my curfew was inexplicably 7:30 (another story for another day). But I do now.
This summer for my mom’s retirement after 45 years as a speech therapist, first in the public schools and then with multiply-handicapped toddlers in a day program, my dad splurged and took us on a cruise around Boston Harbor. He even begrudgingly agreed to purchase a $25 picture of us that was taken by a guy who worked for the cruise company. My mom couldn’t have been happier. It was a wonderful night for a deserving person and my mom was perfectly happy to enjoy a night with her boys. She didn’t need a trip to London to commemorate her retirement. Or a piece of jewelry. Or any other handful of things.
Before we bemoan the various lottery prizes we didn’t win, let’s consider the ones that we did, the ones that billion of people on this planet would sacrifice basically everything for.
For me, the lottery is over. It happened 29 years ago. I won. I didn’t even know I was playing. Some people have all the luck.
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