I have never broken so much as a toe. I know you’d say I’m clumsy, but would you say I’m lucky… or unlucky?
When I was a child, my mother would come running when she heard the thumping – the tell-tale clue that I was bouncing down the stairs. After a while she stopped running to my aid and would just call out from the couch, “You OK?”
Once, when I was in college and working at the Potsdam Museum, I slipped on ice at the top of the stone steps and landed on my ass on the sidewalk, about eight feet away, without hitting a single step on the way down. There was no one to applaud but me. This photo from the museum’s collections shows the Center shortly after its completion. (Note the steps I fell down, on the right!) At the time, I was still a half-hearted believer in some sort of deity, but even then I wondered if He was the angel catching me at the bottom… or the devil giving me a shove at the top.
I have been lucky in other ways.
I am lucky in love.
I’ve been lucky in traffic, too. Twice I just missed being flattened by a semi. Once was (mostly) my own fault – I didn’t see a stop sign at a country road intersection. It was there, barely visible, nearly covered by foliage. My husband saw the sign and shouted for me to stop just in time. See? Lucky in love…
I am lucky to have met you.
And speaking of time, I have been lucky to meet just the right people at just the right times in my life, for just the right sorts of reasons. Seventeen years ago today, I had major surgery in a foreign land. The land was Turkey, the city was Ankara, the hospital was the Woman’s Hospital, and my surgeon turned out to be a very important person, the head of the hospital. I don’t recall her name, but she had a photograph of herself with Hilary Clinton on the wall of her office. Talk about lucky! One of the best surgeons in the capital had worked on me, and Hilary would have been happy to know that my surgery and week-long hospital stay only cost us 200 bucks.
When I woke up from the anesthesia, this very important surgeon was holding my hand. She said “You are a very brave woman” to me, in English. Naturally, my fertile imagination decided “You are a very brave woman” meant “I’ve done my best, but you are going to die!” Luckily for me, that was not what she meant. She meant that, due to the mess she’d found when she sliced me open, she believed I’d been suffering great pain for years. The fact is that, while I was suffering due to a thousand inconveniences – mostly having to pee all the time — my condition had caused me very little pain.
I wasn’t brave. I just had to pee. Other women with my condition had suffered horribly. They were brave. I was just lucky.
A year and a half later, Turkey experienced a horrific earthquake. Approximately 17,000 people died, including one of our friends and her 6-year-old daughter. Our family was lucky; their summer apartment on the shores of the Sea of Marmara was flattened, but my husband and I had built a house here in Bodrum, so his parents came to stay with us that year and rented out the apartment. Unfortunately, the renters were killed. If we hadn’t moved to Turkey, we and other family members would have been visiting his parents – we would have been sleeping in that seaside apartment complex when it came crashing down. The whole family could have been wiped out, like so many others.
Once again, I was lucky when others weren’t. Meanwhile…
I fell down the stairs a few more times.
Once, I fell down the solid stone steps from our pool down to the equally solid stone patio. The steps were four feet wide; I rolled down them with my lucky head just off the edge and landed battered and bruised, but not broken. Once again, I wasn’t dead; once again, there was no audience to applaud but me.
I coulda woulda shoulda blown up.
Four years after the earthquake, I was visiting a friend in Istanbul. We’d planned my stay so I’d be home before my birthday, November 20th. The day I came home, Al-Qaeda blew a hole in the city of Istanbul. Five days later, on my birthday, they did it again — right where I’d been standing the week before.
So, what is luck, anyway? Some think “There but for the Grace of God go I…” They believe what I call luck is the hand of God saving people for a purpose only He knows, while He lets others, sometimes thousands of others — men and women and babies and Palamino horses — perish. And they worship that guy. That sounds crazy to me, and if I could believe in a god that would do such a thing, I certainly wouldn’t worship him. It seems to me that those who need to believe in a just and merciful god also need to believe in a vengeful, petulent devil – that it is that craven, cloven-hoofed goat who butts them down the stairs, not their God.
It’s a long time since I believed anything but that I’m naturally clumsy, distracted… and lucky. The world seems more dangerous every day, every where. Gods and Devils — those pushers and pullers, tossers and catchers — are in the news a lot lately, and a lot of good and bad folks want to fight for and against them. My natural tendency to cower at home seems more justified than ever. After all, most of my life I’ve been a Mrs. Magoo who just misses getting flattened again and again.
Times are troubled, but only I can decide if the things that happen to me prove I’m a lucky optimist or unlucky pessimist. There’s no guarantee that a semi won’t squash me on the highway, or a bomber won’t shred me while I’m squeezing cabbages at the bazaar. But most accidents happen at home.
On the stairs.