Dianne and I were escaping the heat and humidity one day recently, sitting on our dock of the bay in the shade of a patio umbrella, soothed as much by our cold drinks as the breeze off the water. A number of yachts were moored on the leeside of the bay, out of the wind and traffic of the main river channel, while a few kayaks skirted the far shoreline. Some gulls circled overhead, and we spotted herons, kingfishers, a bald eagle, an osprey, even a cormorant. Pretty idyllic.
But I have to say, it all seemed so incongruent, this small slice of peace and tranquility in a world otherwise racked by conflict and crisis: Afghanis running for their lives; asylum seekers drowning in the Mediterranean; lives and homes lost from yet another earthquake in Haiti; more lives and homes lost in yet another hurricane slamming New Orleans; citizens shot by soldiers in the streets in Myanmar; the Covid virus wreaking havoc all over the world. Sadly, I could go on.
Rather than prompt me to stop following the news – ignorance is bliss? – it instead reminded me of the role luck plays in our lives. I’m not sure what cosmic force apportions luck, but there’s clearly something going on.
How is that we live in this protective bubble? What have we done to deserve this?
Among those of us fortunate to be living a decent, comfortable life, there is a temptation to believe we’ve got what we deserve. We studied hard, worked hard, made thoughtful decisions, acted decently, saved our money, stayed out of serious trouble, and bingo!
For me, though, that’s far too simplistic. All those things may increase the odds, but I’m not a believer in the strict merit argument. Besides, I’m quite certain there are people in Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan, Haiti, and Myanmar who have played the cards they’ve been dealt as best they could, working hard, trying to educate themselves, caring for their children, trying to build a decent life.
I recognize that some among us are clearly luckier than others. And I’m willing to concede that I’m among the fortunate ones. If we’re going to be honest with ourselves, we need to look in the mirror and ask, where has luck fit into our lives?
Let’s begin with what’s known as the birth lottery: I was born in Canada rather than in, say, North Korea; I was born healthy, to caring parents with the means to provide for me and my sisters; I was born in the mid-20th century, when a social safety net and universal health care and education systems had been established.
Unlike my grandfather and my great-grandfather, I’ve never been asked to fight in a war. I haven’t had to endure anything like the Great Depression. I suppose the Covid pandemic has been the biggest challenge of my lifetime, but other than cancelling a couple of trips and having to mask up from time to time, my family and friends are doing fine. I’m retired with a good pension.
My first career started with a knock on my front door — literally. My parents happened to own a restaurant in a small Ontario town, the editor of a local newspaper happened to come in looking for someone to do some reporting, I happened to be home sick from school that day, she happened to drop by to see if I was interested, I happened to want to drag my congested self back to bed, so I said sure. She handed me a camera, film, her business card and she left. I’d never read a newspaper up to that point, but it led to a pretty good, decades-long career.
I met the woman who would become my wife because my roommate moved in with her roommate, and she moved in with us. We became friends, going to movies and such, she got engaged to a friend of mine, that didn’t work out, and only a while later we started dating. We’ve been together thirty years, with very few harsh words spoken between us. Except, that time we played bocce – but that’s not a story I’m willing to tell.
Our two children were born healthy, defying genetic odds; of my mother’s six pregnancies, she had two miscarriages and two of my brothers died shortly after being born hydrocephalic from spina bifida.
Yes, we worked hard, earned university degrees, saved and invested our money, made more good decisions than bad. But, then again, we were dealt very good cards.
We’ve been lucky.