This is one of the bonfires that I regularly set in aid of navigation for jet airliner pilots 35,000 feet above me flying between Denver International Airport and O’Hare. I provide this service only in clement weather. The rest of the time they are on their own.
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Many have asked me, “Steve, what does it feel like to be the luckiest person in the world?”
How does one answer that question? It seems to me to the question calls upon me to draw some contrast between how I feel and how an unlucky man feels. Since I have had luck for my entire life, how am I to know how an unlucky man feels in contradistinction to how I feel? At a loss in the face of that question, I usually turn the conversation to the weather.
We are all vainer of our luck than of our merits. –Nero Wolfe.
Probably true and also the reason that I shall not list the various ways in which I have been–and am–lucky. Modesty, albeit it false, prevents me from doing that. In lieu of that mind-numbing itemization, I propose this. Because I am hands down the luckiest person in the world, I happen to know a good deal about luck. Many have pretended to some expertise on the subject and misled impressionable youth with mistaken ideas as a result. I intend to set straight some of this.
I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have. –Unknown.
This is just a sly, snarky way of demeaning the preëminent value luck. No, Samuel Goldwyn is not the source of this. And whoever first attributed this statement to Thomas Jefferson was a benighted soul indeed.
Let us for a moment suppose that this unknown deponent had instead idled about and never worked at all let alone in a hard way, a lifestyle about which I know something, too. Who is to say that he would not have been just as lucky or perhaps even luckier? Putting it another way, he may have simply fucked up the larger supply of luck he did have with all that hard work.
Gary Player is credited with a cute variation on this to the effect that the more he practiced golf, the luckier he was at the game. I believe that the sooner we start ignoring the bon mots of grown men who make their living playing a game while other grown men watch them, the luckier society will be.
Shallow men believe in luck, believe in circumstances: It was somebody’s name, or he happened to be there at the time, or, it was so then, and another day it would have been otherwise. Strong men believe in cause and effect. –Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Don’t get me started on Ralph Waldo Emerson . . . . Oops! To late! I am already started.
Some years ago I was sitting in a movie theater watching Saving Private Ryan while munching on some popcorn and some Dots and washing it all down with a large Coke. Somewhere in a lull in the action, Captain Miller has a conversation with Corporal Upham about Emerson. Both characters are educated men. I said to myself, “Gosh, I need to read some more Emerson.” Fool that I was, I set about to do just that.
This is a writer whose style is utterly opaque. And as with all opaque stylists, one soon finds that the opacity is there for a reason. The man has nothing of any truth to say. I would rather go mine salt than read another word of Emerson. Poor confused man.
Consider this that he wrote:
War educates the senses, calls into action the will, perfects the physical constitution, brings men into such swift and close collision in critical moments that man measures man.
Reading that makes me want to jerk the man forward to 1968, air drop him into Quang Tri Province, let him thrash around there for 13 months, and then see what the dumb son-of-a-bitch has to say on the subject after he comes out, if he comes out. If he were to come out in one piece, he would no doubt be a big convert as far as belief in the efficacy of luck is concerned, assuming that God gave him any sense at all, a proposition in support of which I have no evidence to offer.
Looking on the bright side, I see progress in American thought on the subject as evidenced by its literature:
The only thing I ever learned was that some people are lucky and other people aren’t and not even a graduate of the Harvard Business School can say why. –Kurt Vonnegut.
Lest I seem cynical in all this, let me leave you with a heart-warming sentiment. The distribution of luck is not the zero sum game that characterizes so much of our contemporary life on this beleaguered planet. Simply because I am the luckiest person in the world and have soaked up so much of it does not mean that you cannot have some luck, too. So it is that with the warmest of personal regards, I wish you ¡Buena suerte!