In a healthy psyche, how much value would a person place on lucking out? Is anything really yours that you don’t earn?

On the other side of the coin, there is so much in life that a person doesn’t earn? Did I earn my capable and caring parents? Did I earn my comfortable white, middle class American status? Was not I just more luckily born than the hungry Honduran migrant riding atop a Mexican train, hoping one day to make it into America?

What value to give to good luck requires a lot of deliberation, and even then we’ll never get to the bottom of it. One point seems clear enough though: the more one focuses on luck, the less responsibility one is taking for one’s life. I like the story of Bobby Jones (maybe apocryphal) in which he chips a shot from off the green into the hole. A fan yells out, “pretty lucky, Bobby.” To which he responds, “And the more I practice that shot, the luckier I get.”

Less flippantly, Thoreau says in the “Conclusion” of Walden: “I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Earlier, in “Solitude,” he hinted at the same good fortune: “Sometimes, when I compare myself with other men, it seems as if I were more favored by the gods, beyond any deserts that I am conscious of; as if I … were especially guided and guarded.”

“Favored by the gods?” Lucky Thoreau? Well, yes, but he put a big caveat on it. (As did Jones.) You have to find your calling. Do your work. Then you are favored. Then the “luck” comes. On other fronts, you could say that both he and Jones were unlucky, suffered from crippling diseases early in life, Thoreau dying at age 44.

But then, in this life, we all end up dead. Nobody’s going to luck out of that, no matter how favored by the gods they sometimes feel.

. . .

I remember how appalled I was with the New Age mentality of the 80’s; then, not surprisingly, to see it later blossom darkly into such infomercials as “The Secret.” “The secret,”if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, is that you can manifest your own good luck, not through hard work, but through thought control, wiping clean old negative tapes in your head that are telling you that you’re not deserving of the very best of everything, large and small, from a multi-million dollar home in the Poconos to a parking spot in crowded New York City.

How disgusting — to take a grain of truth and blow it up into something all-encompassing. Of course, you draw to yourself, to some degree, what you think you deserve. But this New Age talk takes that way too far – says, for example, that you are creating your own poverty by thinking about yourself as being poor. Think of yourself as rich and you soon will be. (In “The Secret” almost all of the manifestations are luxurious homes, high paying jobs, etc. Little to nothing is said about manifesting wisdom, compassion, generosity.)

The law of attraction it is called. Your thoughts of poverty create poverty. In worrying about sickness, you attract sickness. In feeling alone, you increase your isolation. In fretting about death, death comes ever closer. The law of attraction is an ugly oversimplification of the extraordinarily complicated situations human beings find ourselves in. Worse, it negates the hard work and courage of the very best among us. Did Gandhi and Martin Luther King attract their own assassins? Did Joe Hill want to be hanged? Are the Syrian migrants who drown crossing the Mediterranean the ones who are attracted to drowning?

. . .

On the other hand, it seems true to me that one can get on the good side of oneself or the bad side. On most days, I set aside time for meditation. For me that entails sitting in a chair with my back straight and my eyes closed. And then just waiting — waiting for the click, is how I describe it to myself. Before the click comes (it takes ten or fifteen minutes), I’m generally thinking about myself in the typical insecure ways, or thinking about my “to do” list, thinking about my worries, thinking about how I’m always thinking, etc.

I know the click has come when my breathing changes. Sleep, sex, fear, anger, boredom … they all have their own breathing, and so does meditation. I’ve learned to recognize it, and to notice how in meditative breathing my thinking slows down, and occasionally disappears altogether. Habitual worries fade into the background. Ego defers to “being,” or moves in that direction.

And here’s the point, as it pertains to this essay. I have noticed, many times over, that on days that I meditate my life runs more smoothly than on days that I don’t. In meditation I never ask for any blessing in particular, and certainly not riches. It seems that the very nature of a quieted mind is above my asking self. And it’s only after the fact that I might say, “well, look at this, look at what just happened.”

. . .

One afternoon earlier this summer (I had meditated that morning), I was out doing stuff, getting ready to drive off to Canada for a three week vacation. I exited off U.S. 68 and suddenly I had no clutch. Luckily, I had a nice wide space, across from a fruit stand, in which to coast to a stop. Luckily, I had my track phone with me. I usually don’t. And it had some minutes on it. It usually doesn’t. Luckily, I had just renewed my AAA road service, because I’d been considering cancelling it.

It’s hard to think clearly when the unexpected happens. It was about 5:00 o’clock. While I was talking to the AAA operator, luckily it came to me to have my car towed to Queen City Motors, where I bought it. They have a garage. I didn’t know their number, but luckily the AAA operator was able to look it up for me. More good luck, she informed me that I had broken down in a high risk area, which meant that my call qualified for high priority service and that a tow truck would arrive in 20 minutes. And, lo and behold, Queen City Motors was 2.9 miles from where I sat — lucky me, because for anything under three miles, the tow is free. Priority service also meant that they’d be sending a flatbed truck, also lucky, since I had my bike on the back, which would have been problematic for a regular tow truck.

When I called Queen City, the garage manager said they had already closed, but that he’d wait for me. So within 20 minutes, I had my ducks lined up for this repair. The garage manager said that unfortunately their courtesy driver had already left for the day. No big deal, since I could ride my bike home. I needed the exercise anyway.

Perhaps the best luck of all, how much more difficult this break-down would have been if I had been half-way to Canada. And so what if my vacation was delayed a few days? Luckily I didn’t have to be on the road precisely as planned. My son and daughter-in-law were waiting for me at our cabin, but they would be perfectly fine if I was a few days late. My Canadian vacation was far from ruined.

Thank You, Holy Spirit, I wanted to say, for guiding me so smoothly through this inconvenience.

On the other hand, if I’d been really lucky, that clutch would have lasted forever…. But we know better, don’t we.

And where would be the poignancy of life if everything lasted forever?













  1. Eugenia

    Great story.
    It’s amazing how you can create a story out of any event of your life.
    I truly enjoy ot.

    1. (Post author)

      Thank you, Eugenia. Read the next one up. It makes reference to your father, in a nice way. I often think of how great both of your parents were (are).

  2. Debbie Adam Thompson

    Love it, Jim! I also bought a car from Queen City Motors, around 1994, when I still lived in Cumberland. I’m glad to know you still have your cabin in Canada and that you were able to solve your problem and were so cheerful and positive about it. I trust you had a great time once you arrived.

    This story reminds me of an incident when I broke down along Rt. 220 in my 1982 Chevette (not purchased from Queen City Motors), within sight of the turn onto Rt. 50. Ryan, Andy & I were on our way to Petersburg for the Labor Day weekend. You were going to be away and very generously offered your place to us, a kindness I’ll never forget. Money was scarce, but I wanted to do something special with the boys before they went back to school, and we couldn’t afford an expensive vacation.

    I don’t know how the tow truck got there; I did not have a phone with me. I’m thinking a state trooper may have stopped to check on us. At any rate, the truck that showed up was from Wayne’s Gulf, and the nice driver towed us back to Cumberland.

    I was upset at first, thinking our little getaway was ruined, but luckily–what a coincidence–Wayne’s Gulf had a few cars available for rental, and I had made up my mind on the ride back to town that a little thing like the car breaking down was not going to ruin our holiday. You have no idea how poor I was, but I must have had a credit card with enough available credit to charge the car for a day or two, so I went for it. We ended up with a little white Toyota and our trip was on!

    This incident provided a couple valuable lessons: It helped Ryan & Andy learn to be creative at solving problems, that there are options available to us if we think things through. Also: Don’t just accept the crap that life deals to you sometimes.

    I think they also saw me in a new light. After their dad left us, a time they needed me to be strong, I was a blubbering idiot for a year. They’re the only reason I got out of bed every day. I think this trip helped to show them that I was a determined, much stronger person than they had seen for a while, and it seemed to make them very happy, like I really took charge of the situation and they were proud.

    We had dinner when we arrived at your place (near Carolyn’s?)–I think we picked up subs, and we rented a couple movies from the local video store. In the morning, we cooked eggs for breakfast and ended up having a wonderful time together. You know how sometimes it’s just so good to get away for a day or two? Again, thank you so much for letting us use your place. That taught the boys and me a lesson about generosity.



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