People who need people aren't always the luckiest people

    If there were such a contest, Ringo Starr would win the award for the Luckiest Person Who Ever Lived. Far more interesting –– and confounding –– is figuring out the runners-up, as it is no easy task figuring out exactly what luck is.

    Lou Gehrig said he was the luckiest man who ever lived, and probably meant it, but he had an awful disease which eventually became eponymous. Most of us wouldn’t trade places with him.

    Some might say Abner Louima is lucky, if you don’t count being named Abner. He was arrested and abused by the New York City Police. He just settled his lawsuit for $9 million, after saying his case wasn’t really about money, but an attempt to reform the department. More people would probably trade places with Louima than with Gehrig.

    Most people who get beat up in New York don’t become millionaires from it. Louima’s lawyers (who also said this wasn't about money) are also pretty lucky.

    Speaking of lawyers, Greta Van Susteren was lucky to be home to answer the phone on the day O.J. Simpson was arrested. The networks were willing to put on the air as an expert anyone who could tell juris from prudence. Van Susteren has made herself a new and lucrative career out of it.

    And speaking of O.J., most people would say it is not good fortune to be born black in America. But when they say that, they're not speaking of O.J.

    And speaking of lawyers again, they are lucky to work in what is often a highly lucrative form of extortion. But that may not be the product of luck so much as the millions of dollars they give to politicians in a very organized way to make sure that tort reform doesn't happen.

    Alan Greenspan is lucky, if it is defined as being in the right place at the right time, though some would have you believe he is some kind of all-seeing Zeus over an Olympian economy. Actually, things started going pretty well financially because: (1) corporations had gotten leaner and meaner during the last recession, (2) a more peaceful world opened up lots of new markets for goods and services, and (3) technology allowed workers, especially Americans, to produce more of whatever they were producing faster and cheaper in the same amount of time.    

    In a different time, Greenspan would be playing his clarinet for a living.

    People talk about the luck of the Irish, but in fact the Irish have had a lot of bad things happen to them. They were victims of prejudice in this country, and the Brits have treated them shabbily for centuries.

    But the Irish are a whole lot luckier than Africans, where a recent report showed 40 children a minute die from malaria. African AIDS gets a lot more press, but that disease can be stopped with behavior control. It’s a lot tougher to avoid a mosquito bite.

    In fact, if the cure for any disease was a glass of clean water, most Africans would not have access to it. Africans are surely people who need people, but they are definitely not the luckiest people in the world. Sorry, Barbra.

    The guy from Rhode Island who just won 90 million bucks in the Powerball is lucky. Mark Hamill is lucky, or maybe it was The Force.

    Anyone whose book Oprah likes is lucky. Then again, there is a certain formula to having a book that Oprah likes. Usually it involves a boy, a girl, a shattered past and a hopeless future, but a dream that wouldn't die.

    Then you have your blind luck, beginner’s luck, Lady Luck, dumb luck. Or the technical definition of luck as "the absence of assignable cause."

    There are people who survive cancer and consider themselves lucky. And there are guys who manage to find the right part to fix their old washing machine and they think they're lucky.

    People have been contemplating the reasons for life's vagaries and vicissitudes for a very long time, even before Plato and Socrates and those guys. Even Einstein couldn't account for the randomness of most events. It can be very unsettling not to know why bad things happen to some people and good things happen to others.

    The uncertainties of life are partly why so many of us turn to a higher power, who we like to think has a master plan for all events. It's comforting to think there is a reason, even if it is not revealed to us.

    Me? I consider myself lucky I get the chance to think about stuff like this.


April 11, 2001