With My Luck

I wish I didn’t believe in luck. I guess I’m just not lucky that way. And I’m not alone. Of all the “superstitions” that haunt the human psyche, luck is among the most pervasive. We either have windfalls that make our lives easy, or, like many of us, a series of unfortunate events against which we constantly have to struggle. We call it luck. But is it real? William Ian Miller wrote an intriguing piece called “May You Have My Luck” for a recent Chronicle of Higher Education Review. There’s nothing as mysterious to me as the hapless professor. I mean, they have it all, right? Educated at fine schools, cushy jobs that pay reasonably well, interviews on documentaries, jobs that among the rarest on earth? Who wouldn’t want that kind of luck? (I am also a believer in myth, so that also must be taken into account.) The reason I raise luck here, however, is that Miller’s article again and again returns to religion. I don’t think it’s intentional. It’s just unavoidable. Luck, no matter how we define it, goes back in some way to the favor of the gods.

We all know people that we think of as lucky. Success seems to follow on success for them. They are at the right place just at the right moment, and their lives seem to be easy and not so full of stress as those of the rest of us. Most people, as Miller observes, have middling luck. Things go our way sometimes, and then they don’t go our way at others. My fascination, however, lies with those on the other end of the spectrum. There are those who seem to get very few breaks. They may do all the right things, follow all the wisest advice, work harder than anyone else, and still end up on the bad end of luck’s roulette. Ironically, they may be religious people to boot. Their deity, according to their sacred traditions, is the most powerful entity in the universe. And yet things don’t go their way. We call it luck. Is it more powerful than the divine?

This question, or more properly, conundrum, lies behind any concept of luck. Shifting to the paradigm with which I’m most familiar, does God direct luck or does luck exist independently of God? Does luck even exist at all? Is it just the name we give to a series of random happenings in retrospect and which have no inherent meaning? Ah, that seems to be the very point! Meaning. What do these things that happen to us mean? Whether or not we believe that life has any meaning, our minds are biologically programmed to seek it out. Very few of us are content to find only food, shelter, and air to breathe. We want something more out of life. We may not be able to name it, but whatever it is, we could conceivably call it meaning. We are looking for a purpose to our mere existence, even if we don’t believe in it. Gods or no gods, we are left trying to discern what they require of us. And whether we find it or not, it seems, is purely a matter of luck.

Photo credit: Joe Papp, Wikipedia Commons

Photo credit: Joe Papp, Wikipedia Commons

4 responses to “With My Luck

  1. Brent Snavely

    Explanatory beliefs, and systems thereof, help make us feel better about events not otherwise comprehensible.

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  2. I’m not sure God directs luck, in my case that is. There is a God, and I am not Him. I’ve been in the right place at the right time, and I’ve also been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    I take my mortality very seriously, seeing i was supposed to die a long ago and I didn’t. Was that luck, taking care of myself, medication, or divine intervention? I am also in recovery, so I guess you could say that I am one lucky bastard.

    God has been good to me, and sometimes I am not sure I am worthy all the time of that blessing. We talk about luck as an easy word. But we do come around, as you say, to religion. God is in the finer details. I tend towards that belief.

    Over the past twenty years you could say I got really lucky that certain people stepped into my life when they did. And that has been an ongoing theme. Have i really been lucky, Or did God really favor my survival from several trips to hell and back?

    The moment I take my eyes off of God or I step off the proverbial “beam” I fall quickly into bad luck and disaster. Always. Time and experience has taught me that the divine may play a larger part in my life than luck does. Because life can turn on a dime. I just try to mitigate those times.

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    • Hi, Jeremiah. I always find it interesting when academics talk about luck, since we’re generally taught that there is no such thing. Still, the belief has been around about as long as people have, so I have to wonder if there’s something to it. Just my luck.

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