The trouble with luck

Luck. April Fools Day seems a good day to consider the concept, which I’ve never known what to do with. I tell John good luck, often tongue-in-cheek, as he sets off for his day. We of the Jantz-Estes tribe are great in a crisis; it’s the idea of getting through a normal day that undoes us.

I took a sick day yesterday. Not that I was all that sick—head cold coming on, a general feeling of malaise. But it’s how I allow myself to recover. I could never take a day just to take a day; I must call myself sick. Then it’s allowed.

So being sick, I could lay on the couch under a blanket with Jonah, watching him play Granny Smith on the iPad and reading my book in intervals. Current selection: The Still Point of the Turning World, by Emily Rapp. She’s a fantastic writer. This is a book about her son Ronan, who was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs at 9 months and given, at most, two years to live.

But it’s not a book about death. Okay, it is a book about death, but just as much it’s a book about life. Which is where the idea of luck comes in. In the following passage, she is in the midst of an appointment with Ronan’s geneticist, trying to figure the astronomically long odds that she and her husband could both carry the Tay-Sachs gene.

The geneticist told us that if we all had our DNA analyze, we’d freak out. We’d be horrified by the many possibilities that may await us next year, in a decade, tomorrow, next week, a moment from now.

“So it’s about luck,” I said.

“No,” he said. “It’s about life. Any of us, at any moment, could manifest something we don’t expect.”

I misunderstood the concept of luck by believing it existed. I didn’t need to feel cursed because Ronan had a terminal illness; I was long past caring what people thought about my own disability and what may have caused it or why. We talk about luck, I think, because it makes us feel blessed (another troublesome, annoyingly “folksy” word that is spoken by a character, at some point, in every episode of Little House on the Prairie). Saying “I’m so lucky” might feel to some like a priestly incantation, the casting of a protective spell that makes people believe that they’re standing on solid ground, far from catastrophe, while the unlucky folks within shouting distance squirm around in the quicksand with their cancer and diseases and dying babies; but life—not luck—will find you eventually. To say “I’m lucky” feels almost mean-spirited. It is mistaken for thankfulness, but it’s not; it’s smug and congratulatory, as if bad luck were a mischievous old gossipy lady with bad breath and kleptomania whom you, super smarty-pants you, were wise enough to kick out of your house before she slipped the family jewels into her big ugly purse while everyone else was stupid enough to let her in and serve her expensive chocolates and cups of champagne.

Emily Rupp, from The Still Point of the Turning World

All of us, at some moment, will undergo something we don’t expect. And while setting death right alongside life is terribly difficult and probably the last thing we instinctively want to d0—that juxtaposition is integral and worth working toward, so life can find us.


One thought on “The trouble with luck

  1. Ya know, I think sometimes what is “unexpected” for me is the good I find! Being as sleep-with-one-eye-open anxious as I am, sometimes it is hard to look past the falling sky and see the sun. You are right…when I think of death, even death being a simple end to something, I can embrace life, the here and now, with more gratitude.

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