In early January, I took an ill-advised trip to the East Coast. I went to visit college friends, some who have stayed in New York and some who have moved away but were home to visit family for the holidays. I knew, going in, that it was a bad idea. The plan was to start in New York City, then pick up a friend and catch a bus to Boston. There, we’d meet another friend who would drive us to Maine. Maine, of Arctic chill and snowy roads. I had made a trip through Maine in the winter once before, during freshman year of college. We were on our way to Montreal for God knows what reason (actually, the reason was that it was Spring Break and we were 18, and guess who lets 18-year-olds drink? Canada.). The trip was perilous. We ran off the road once and had to be saved by friendly Canadians who just happened to have a tow-hook on their truck. Another night, we were snowed in and spent a long, creepy night with friends-of-friends in a cabin in the woods. The whole thing was just begging to be turned into a horror movie (but that’s another story).
The point is, I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew that I would probably be delayed, stranded, and grumpy. But I also felt that if I didn’t try to take this trip, I would lose the chance to see my friends for another year.
But then—everything went perfectly. Despite the polar vortexes hungrily circling the East Coast like sharks, I didn’t have a single delay. The day we took the bus to Boston, every bus was cancelled due to weather—up until the hour we left. It was completely unbelievable. I had planned my trip months in advance, so there was nothing I could have done to strategize. It was pure luck.
That perfectly choreographed weekend made me think about my luck. In general I am pretty lucky (she said, and jinxed herself). I don’t mean in the big ways (while there is much to say about the luck of privilege and opportunities, that’s not where I’m going here). I mean in small ways—I rarely have travel delays, I rarely lose things, and I’ve been known to win the occasional raffle or scratch-off ticket. This realization made me think about luck—what is this thing? Are some people blessed to have the sun shine down on them, while others are cursed to walk beneath a perpetual, personal rain cloud? I have three theories.
1. Actual superiority
Theory 1: Luck is for the chosen ones. Maybe I have really, really good karma. Maybe I was a perfect saint in a previous life and have side-stepped enough sins in this one that I am actually, objectively, better than other people, and good luck is just the universe giving me my due.
This is a facetious theory; I know it’s not true. I am deeply flawed in the ways that all humans are; no more or less deserving than anyone else. Any moral code the universe has is arbitrary and impossible to predict. For myself, all I can hold up as a universal truth is “do no harm.” But, as I vaguely remember from a high school science class, for any action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Voted for the righteous politician? Oops, turns out he just cut a billion jobs from the economy. Tipped your barista an extra dollar? That’s a dollar you could have given to charity, you asshole. There is no best path, and thinking that there is (and that you might fathom what it is) is a prideful thought. There is only the path you choose, and it’s going to hurt people.
So, nope, noone deserves to have better luck than anyone else.
Theory 2: Luck is actually a by-product of anxiety. This is my favorite theory because it validates something I struggle with and can’t control. In other words, those who worry about silly things like losing keys and missing busses are more in-tune with the nuances of their environment, and the trade-off for wasting so much mental energy checking my surroundings and belongings is that I rarely find myself in “unlucky” situations like getting a parking ticket or losing my keys. I like this theory, but it doesn’t quite account for the luck of chance.
Theory 3: There is no luck, there is only perspective. Maybe everybody is exposed to the same amount of shit and sunshine, and people are predisposed to focus on one or the other. Whether or not this is measurably true, maybe luck (or, at least, feeling lucky) does ultimately come from within.
I really hope that the answer lies in Theory 3, otherwise I am in for a giant metaphorical pidgeon-crap on the head in the very near future.