What is Luck? Homily delivered on March 18th, 2007 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron. ~ by Jamie Goodwin
The existence of luck and of the ability to influence luck, both for good or ill, is one of the prolific and diverse beliefs in all of humanity. More popular than a belief in a personal God, more widespread than a belief in humanistic potential, and more prevalent than any kind of belief in natural or earth based spirits, the belief in Luck crosses lines of religion, class, race, culture, upbringing, and geographic distance.
But is it real?
Like all of what we call mysteries of life it is impossible, of course, to prove one way or the other. That doesn’t mean that we have not tried. It may be a very Unitarian Universalist point of view, but I do not like to let a simple thing like impossibility get in the way of a good discussion. We have talked about Luck, or the lack there of, for about as long as we have been able to talk. I imagine our first human ancestors on the banks of some unnamed river in Northern Africa laughing about the luck of one of their members on the hunt. I imagine my ancestors in Ireland returning home saddened and hungry, there no work to be found, and they say “no luck again today.”
Even Ralph Waldo Emerson, the transcendentalist poet who reshaped Unitarianism despite only being an ordained minister for a little over 3 years, had something to say about Luck.
Shallow men believe in luck, believe in circumstances.
Real men believe in cause and effect.
Those are tough words from a man known for his tough words. So is carrying some small token in hopes of a brighter day as shallow as all that? Does coming to terms with the circumstances in our lives make us less real? I must say sorry, Uncle Ralph, but this time I must disagree.
A quote that captures my heart is from Seneca the Younger. He was a Roman Dramatist of the first century.
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
Those others here, besides myself, who are Oprah fans may recognize that phrase; it is one she says often. Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
I watched a television show the other day. Highlighted in this show was a young fellow, who at the age of 15 was dealt what many might consider a terrible amount of bad luck. While goofing off at the railroad tracks at night behind his home he was struck by a train. The result was him loosing both legs above the knee and his right arm just past his shoulder. This young man was able turn this devastating tragedy into something amazing.
He is now once again an athlete, competing regularly in running and swimming events using prosthetics. He was also the first double lower amputee to walk down stairs without holding on to another person, or railing, for support. He does it unassisted.
All of this is in thanks in part to an amazing clinician who just happened to be as energetic and passionate about this young mans future as he is himself. He was the first Prosthetist the family worked with. As his work grew he has now helped raise the bar on what amputees can hope to gain on the use prosthetics.
Was it luck that brought these two people together? The energetic young patient who demanded more and better, and was willing to work for it, and the equally energetic and extremely competent clinician who is determined to clear every bar that is raised in his path. Was it just plain old dumb luck?
The young man had been an athlete before his accident, a runner, a swimmer, and a skateboarder. He mentioned how this made him much better prepared to master the types of muscle control needed to control modern prosthetics. The prosthetists energy and ingenuity was well known before this, but coming into contact with this specific patient enabled him to soar in a way he had never before known.
What has stayed with me from watching that show is this. You can make the best out of ever opportunity, even when it arises out of tragic events, if you are willing and prepared.
What is luck? Is it even real? I cannot answer that for you. But I believe in it. I believe that we CAN influence the word around us by our willingness to take part in life and in our preparations for the future. I believe that simple tokens carried or cared for that help us remember, or hope, or focus are amazing gifts, sacred artifacts from our very lives.
I would like to end with a traditional Irish Blessing in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.
May you always have work for your hands to do.
May your pockets hold always a coin or two.
May the sun shine bright on your windowpane.
May the rainbow be certain to follow each rain.
May the hand of a friend always be near you.
And may God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.
Amen, and May it be.