Luck is an underestimated power in our daily universe. I remember the first time I had to think seriously about the power of luck. I was at the home of my thesis advisor and we were talking about my future. Since he was a literature guy and I am a literature guy (Huh?) and both of us had a strong interest in popular literature of an era vs. the official lexicon of literature studies, we were talking about Horatio Alger novels.
“The lesson everyone takes from them is hard work and determination lead to success,” said Dr. Richardson, “but every one of Alger’s heroes was lucky. And none of them aspired very high. In every single one of those stories the Alger hero meets a person who helps him. Luck. Of course, he’s always a good guy bringing in the point that virtue will be rewarded, but it’s not rewarded by luck. In real life, virtue might never be rewarded at all, and luck is luck. It’s not hard work and virtue in Alger’s books. It’s luck. You need some luck, Martha.”
I thought at the time that I WAS lucky. Dr. Richardson was my thesis advisor. Wow!
I think the occasion was that I had actually, finally, finished my thesis to his and my satisfaction. I wasn’t sure what to do next. I was pondering law school and business school. There were no teaching jobs in Denver at that point. I was working full time at the University of Denver law school assisting the directors of development and alumni relations — fund-raising. I was doing PR writing, and I liked it. I was a volunteer teacher at a literacy program. It was all pretty good, but…
I’d essentially been thrown out of grad school. When most of my peers were given a third year, paid, with a Teaching Assistantship to write their thesis without the pressure of finding a job, I wasn’t. “We don’t think you’re quite the thing,” was the message of the department head who told me I’d let the Department down. I had been given a full ride and a teaching assistantship, but no more. Why? Because I hadn’t “performed” up to expectation. It wasn’t fair, but it wasn’t wrong. I might not have been the stellar student, but I wasn’t the worst. Along with grad school I had to end a marriage to an abusive husband. And, what’s more, I’d served as President of the Arts and Sciences Graduate Student council and organized an event that made money for the college. I had some small features. I was a popular teacher. My thesis was 100% original research. “We’ll let you remain a part of the department for year,” said the department head, “just in case you actually DO write a a thesis.” A year later when I brought him my finished thesis to sign off, he had no negative comments except a typo on some page.
“I didn’t think you could do it,” he said. What a fucker. I got mine, though. I didn’t have the money to have two extra (the university paid for one to put in the university library) copies of my thesis printed — one for the department library and one for me. I had one printed for the department and I stole it. 🙂
Still, there is really something different about me, and I have no idea what it is.
The problem with luck is we don’t always know when we’re having it. Looking back over my life I can see some of the moments when luck stepped in — and often it was preceded by misfortune. This is a common feature of luck, I think, leading to the saying, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
Medieval people were all about luck, and that might be one of their charms for me. The Wheel of Fortune acknowledges that we just don’t have that much individual power over our lives, and it’s how we face the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that gives us a place in Heaven. I don’t know about Heaven, but how we approach the ups and downs of life certainly affects our happiness in the here and now.