Luck, Extra Days and Unnecessary Roadblocks

I haven’t been feeling too altruistic lately. Which isn’t a good thing. There is no substitute for giving. I suspect you know what I mean.

We can give in different ways. Our money. Time. Effort. Lives. The list is endless. I’ve previously discussed my problem with the money route. Simply put, most charities and other nonprofits are poor stewards of their money and other resources. I’m tired of the waste and, in many cases, the subterfuge. At this point in my life, I’m more interested in effective altruism than simply throwing more money at nonprofits.

So, lately, I’ve been thinking about what I can do besides writing a check. I tried volunteering at a local hospital but found myself doing things that really didn’t need to be done. Or that could (and should) be done by employees. I don’t want to be taking a paying job from anyone. Or doing makeshift work.

One good thing that came out of my hospital volunteer work, however, was an awareness of a particular dire need. I came into contact with families of patients who were receiving organ transplants. Sometimes from deceased donors. Sometimes from living donors. (A kidney from a living donor is far better. It’s more likely to work and last a lot longer.) Continue reading

Who’s the Lucky One?

During the past couple of months I’ve heard it often. The first time was in the ambulance. From the paramedic.

I didn’t have to be told, of course. I instinctively knew it from the first moment I regained consciousness and realized the severity of the collision. I knew I was lucky to be alive.

But I don’t necessarily feel lucky. I have no way of knowing whether survival was a good or bad thing. What will the future hold? I don’t know. What pain and suffering may have been averted if I had never regained consciousness? I have no way of knowing. I do know that I may rue the day I woke up. I hope not. But I can’t dismiss the possibility.

Life is random that way. There is so much out of our control. “Shit happens,” they say. And often there is nothing we can do about it.

When people tell me that I’m lucky, I often think, and sometimes say, “We’re all lucky.” Anything could happen to any of us at any time, without warning. It’s just that, without a life-threatening event or condition, we tend not to focus on our good fortune. But when disaster fails to materialize or is averted quietly, we are just as lucky as when we survive an actual event. The only difference is, we don’t experience it the same way. We don’t feel lucky.

There is something else I think when people tell me how lucky I was, and it has nothing to do with the auto accident. Rather, it involves my inheritance, something over which I had no say whatsoever.

I was lucky to:

  • be born a white male in America (not that it’s better, but it’s that it conferred privileges in the 20th century that made it easier to succeed)
  • have two parents who cared for me and provided for my needs
  • have loving extended families
  • be able to attend school and get an education
  • meet a wonderful girl who would become my wife
  • have two healthy sons
  • have a healthy granddaughter
  • not inherit any generic disease or disability
  • be born with cognitive abilities that enabled me to succeed professionally

I suppose there are other things that don’t come to mind. But suffice it to say that the list that does occur to me is overwhelming.

I had nothing to do with any of it. I didn’t earn it; I didn’t deserve it; I’m not entitled to it. Rather, it was luck. Pure luck.

Not everyone is so lucky. And it’s not their fault.

I had no control over whether I’d live or die in that car that day. I could have died. But I didn’t. I didn’t deserve to die. Or live. I hadn’t earned the right to survive. I was lucky. Maybe.

For the reasons I explained at the outset, I can’t be sure I was lucky to survive that day. But what I do know is that I’ve been the beneficiary of a lot of luck in my life. Sometimes I forget. But I try to remember. Remembering makes me a better person. Or at least a less bad one.

I’ve been so very, very lucky. It’s just not for the reasons most people think.