Sunday, October 26, 2014

Good Luck!

I once sat through a court proceeding in which a mother's parental rights were being terminated. She was abused and neglected herself as a child, and now she'd done the same to her own kids. When she stood up to address the court, I could see she was many months pregnant. My heart broke a little, because I knew this baby had almost no chance at a happy and stable childhood. 

This triggered a series of thoughts I've had for a long time about the nature of luck: How luck is one of the most significant forces in life and how no one likes to talk about it. I wish I could believe that everything was part of a divine plan. I can see how that would be comforting, and how it would mitigate the sense of the arbitrary and the unfair. Unfortunately, I don't really believe in plans, although I wish I did. The very first thing that happens to you--your birth--is a matter of luck (even if it's part of a divine plan) that sets your life on a largely pre-determined trajectory. We all have some degree of autonomy and we all make choices. 

But some of us have more choices than others. Some people are European boys born to wealthy families and some are Afghani girls born in a war zone. And even after birth--the event that arguably sets your life's course--there are countless opportunities for good and bad luck that can alter it. Will you be in the "wrong place at the wrong time?" Do you have an unknown congenital illness? Will you cheat death by deciding to skip work on 9/11? Less catastrophically, will you fail to achieve a benefit you might genuinely deserve? One of the scariest thoughts is the idea that life isn't a meritocracy. That it might not be a divinely orchestrated event, or subject to alteration through sound decision-making, piety, just deserts, or magical thinking. That you are simply vulnerable to luck: good or bad. 

Because I'm unable to discount the impact of luck, I harbor many fears. But I also feel liberated by not trying too hard to control the many things I know I never can. 

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