Thursday, November 18, 2004

With a little luck ...


Throughout my entire life people have come to the conclusion
that I walk around with a 'black cloud' over my head. 
Some even think that if it weren't for bad luck,
I’d have no luck at all.
So I recently decided to look into this thing called luck,
and see if there was any way to get more of it
or simply enhance my own.
It seems that everyone has heard of luck,
believes in luck, always hopes for better luck,
routinely measures and places a value on their own luck,
has determined the amount of luck everyone else has,
engages in rituals to improve their luck,
can advise others how they can improve theirs,
but no one has ever been able to prove that luck really even exists.
Why do we need luck?  
It's what gives us hope when the outcome is bleak and dismal. 
It provides us with an acceptable reason when we're unfairly cheated
out of a particular reward and helps us explain away
any embarassing failures. 
Luck is what justifies the undeserved successes of our rivals.
Apparently there are degrees of luck,
and some kinds are better or worse than others. 
There's good luck, bad luck, potluck, blind luck,
sheer luck and no luck at all.
It can bring us love, success, fame and fortune,
or take it all away. 
It can help us narrowly escape death, injury,
and disaster or cause permanent pain,
suffering and devastating loss.  
It can assist us in getting away with a crime,
or lock us up for one we never committed. 
It can get us into or thrown out of schools,
pass or flunk exams, be diagnosed just in time
or way too late, land a job or lose one,
meet the love of our lives or leave us lonely,
and it just might be what gets us picked for a game of dodge ball
in the 5th grade or keep us on the side lines forever.
I've always believed that luck is closely related to fate,
as fate seems to be determined by how much and what kind of luck you have.
Some people say that we make our own luck.
That we are the “masters of our own destinies”. 
If that were true, we'd all be living in the lap of luxury,
surrounded by wealth, beauty and privilege. 
Who in their right mind would volunteer to be a passenger
on a flight doomed to crash? 
Or be selected for jury duty or audited by the IRS?
No … we are not masters of out own destinies.
Fate is a cab driver and we are just the helpless passengers
in the back seat who have to pay the fare when the ride is over.
I’ll tell you what I have learned so far…  
Some people are just ‘born lucky’
or always seem to have 'beginners luck’. 
Occasionally it's easy to see just how lucky
you are as in ‘sheer luck’,
but sometimes you can't see it at all
as in ‘blind luck’. 
There's the macho brand as in ‘hard luck’
and ‘tough luck’, or the directional kind
as in ‘down on his luck’. 
There's artistic luck, like ‘luck of the draw’
or the culinary variety as in ‘pot luck’. 
Some people enjoy action luck,
where you ‘press your luck’, or ‘push your luck’,
or have sportsman's luck like a ‘run of bad luck’ or a ‘stroke of luck’. 
There's present tense luck as in “this is your lucky day” and future tense luck as in “better luck tomorrow”. 
There's possessive luck like ‘my luck’,
‘your luck’ and ‘our luck’.
It’s been speculated that luck may have a will of it's own... 
"as luck would have it", or “if luck is on my side”. 
You may have even used reverse psychology
and told an actor to "break a leg." 
Many times luck is viewed as a character
such as ‘lady luck’, ‘lucky devil’, ‘lucky dog’
or ‘lucky duck’.
If you're curious, you can always ‘try your luck’,
and if no one believes you deserve your good fortune
they will say you have ‘dumb luck’ or ‘pure luck’.
Don't get too confident though. 
You may have been born lucky but there may come a time
when you ‘run out of luck’.

Fortunately, there are simple ways to boost your luck. 
Just ‘cross your fingers’, ‘knock on wood’,
or give a ‘kiss for luck’. 
Many people carry it around with them in the form of a rabbit's foot,
a horseshoe or a four-leaf clover. 
Who doesn't have a lucky number?
Just to be on the safe side you should try to avoid breaking mirrors,
walking under ladders or letting a black cat cross your path.  
If it's already too late and you knocked over the saltshaker,
you have a chance to negate the imminent bad luck coming your way
by immediately tossing a pinch of it over your left shoulder.
Yes ... Luck has always been a politically correct,
equal opportunity, all occasion greeting. 
We wish other people “good luck” when they give birth or adopt a child, go on a blind date or get married,
get sent to prison or go off to college,
get fired or get promoted,
land a new job or finally retire,
move away or move in,
buy a lottery ticket or a bingo card,
go off to war or try white water rafting,
enter a convent or get placed in a nursing home,
try out for High School track
or attempt to break a record
on the US Olympic Team.
It doesn't matter whether you are coming up to bat in Little League Baseball or The World Series …
we all wish you “Good luck!”  
So …
in the celebratory words of Clint Eastwood…

“Are you feeling … lucky?”

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

My friend ... Joyce


I met her in Nursing School.

Most of the students were in their late twenties or early thirties.  Many were housewives who had been teenage mothers and were getting a bit of a late start.  I was a little afraid to talk to Joyce at first, because she was loud, large and boisterous.  She seemed friendly to only two other women.  Ones who smoked, cursed and frequently fell asleep in class.  They all wore expressions that were hard and tough.
I imagined they all had tattoos and were members of a motorcycle club.

During a break one morning I noticed that one of the women wore an EMT jacket from an ambulance squad close to my home.  I took a deep breath and walked over toward her.  "Excuse me... but do you live in Lindenwold?"  They stopped talking and turned to look at me.
The bleached blonde in the EMT jacket took a drag from her brown-papered cigarette and narrowed her eyes.
"What's it to you?", she asked.  I was almost trembling.  I remember thinking that it had been a mistake to approach them at all.  I hated driving on the highways so much that I was willing to talk to anyone who could possibly car pool with me in the morning.

And so it began.  Pat introduced me to Joyce and Lee.
I didn't know it yet, but they were the three women who I can honestly say that I never would have made it through Nursing School without. 

Joyce was very heavy. Too big to fit into the standard desk and chairs around her.   She had to sit on the floor of the classroom for almost a week before the school was able to provide her with a desk that wasn't attached to the seat. 
It would have been so easy for her to just quit.  But she stayed and she kept coming back.  
She worked midnight shifts as a nurse's aide before coming to school every day in order to support her 3 small daughters. 
She was exhausted most of the time but she dreamed of a better life for herself and the kids and she was willing to work hard for it.

Listening to Joyce's stories, I wondered if she had ever had an easy time in her entire life.
It was surprising that she always had an easy smile and a ready laugh.   Her large size made many nursing tasks difficult, but Joyce never faltered.  She never asked for help or expected any kind of special treatment.   And she never once complained of anything so much as a backache.  She never let her weight stop her from doing anything. 
Joyce was sexy, fun loving and adventurous, and she made no apologies or excuses.
It wasn't necessary.

It had been many years since any of us had been in school and we all doubted our academic abilities.  We formed a study group and the four of helped each other through many exams. 
We devised ingenious games to help us memorize diseases, formulas and medications.

For one year we shared the memories that had shaped us into the women we were, and wondered aloud if we could ever become the women that we wanted to be.   These three strangers became my sisters.  We each knew when one needed to be pushed, dragged or carried.  We screamed the loudest and clapped the longest when any of us triumphed. 

It was a year that seemed to last a lifetime. 
And when it was over
we promised each other that we would never lose contact.
No matter what, we would always be friends.

But life got busy as it usually does, and before long, years were rushing by with only a phone call here, and an E-mail there.  Our kids grew up and married.  There were promotions, divorces and new houses. 
Then there were the grandchildren.
Lives much too busy for re-unions. 
I never forgot those girls.
And I never will.
They will live in my heart forever.

Joyce died two weeks ago.

I had a chance to see her recently,
but I didn't take it. 
I could have told her just how much her friendship meant to me, and that I would never forget her.  She had a Web Site filled with beautiful, sometimes dark poetry.  I could have told her how wonderful they were.
How talented she was.

I didn't go to her funeral.
It was over before I even knew she had died.
I haven't seen Joyce in more than seven years, but I will miss her terribly. 
I regret missing the times I could have shared with her. 
I always thought that there would be a lot more time.  A better time.  But there won't be.

Not now.
Not ever.

Goodbye, Joyce.  My dear, dear friend.
I'm so sorry...