[Looks like I'm breaking my blog hiatus, but this is more of a compilation than an essay, so it's not distracting me much from Slovakia. Not much...]
"...under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet honor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."
--Ecclesiastes, 9: 11
Damon Runyon famously noted, the race may not go to the swift, but that's still the way to bet. Luck is a slippery customer.
I'm lucky, in certain ways.
There've been some dreadful things in my life, but generally I've been aware that those same things could exist AND I could be living in a refugee camp in Chad. Not only is it my good luck to live in a place and time well-supplied with hot-and-cold running water, but to have a personality able to be happy about that is a matter of luck in itself--and not a sign of superior virtue, as some people claim for themselves.
Besides the sort of luck of being born, for instance, where there's a dentist if you need one--or, even better, being born with good teeth--there's another kind of luck: sheer luck, that freaky, out of the blue, accidental luck that shows up in a crisis. In my research on Slovakia, I just came across a good example:
In January 2006, a military plane carrying Slovak peacekeepers home from a six-month tour of duty in Kosovo crashed into a Hungarian forest and burst into flames. Rescuers in the dark, freezing cold forest found the remains of forty-two bodies strewn over a wide area. They were amazed to find one survivor in the wreck too--in the lavatory, protected from the worst of the damage.
This reminds me of one of the survivors of the 1937 Hindenburg disaster. When the airship caught fire as it was landing in New Jersey, Werner Franz, the teenage cabin boy, was saved from the fire by a shower of water. A water ballast tank burst open, and soaked him. He was then able to make his way to a hatch, which he kicked open and dropped through to the ground, "wet.. but unhurt."
[Photo of Werner Franz, left, from Thirty-Two Seconds.]
Some people seem to have more luck than others. Napoleon said that he wanted his generals to be lucky, as if it were a personal quality, like hair color.
But luck isn't just something we have. Sometimes we have a hand in creating our luck (if we're lucky...).
As Field Marshall Archibald Percival Wavell, 1st Earl Wavell said, in 1941,
"A bold general may be lucky, but no general can be lucky unless he is bold."
Still, no matter how lucky we are in the short run, time plays the final hand. As John M. Keynes said, "In the long run we are all dead." I find that rather comforting, even if I am lucky enough to have a basically chipper personality and decent dental care.