I must have angered the gods when I blogged in August that I am one of the luckiest people I know. They must have decided to punish my hubris…since that time, things have turned downhill in several ways. The sense that I claimed as central to my luck—“disparate elements come together at any given moment in my mind, one that makes the other even better, two that give each other a new quality,”—has now turned into my ability to add insult to sadness to injury!
What can one do when a string of misfortunes just keeps stringing along? When people on whom you’ve depended suddenly begin to let you down? When organizations you’ve trusted demonstrate their untrustworthiness? When places you’ve enjoyed change beyond recognition into strange places, places of unease and discomfort? When neighbors become un-neighborly? When health begins to fail for family and friends and self…even when death descends on loved ones?
I’ve realized that at the core of such suffering is a fear that I’ve long been wrong about so many things. Being betrayed or disappointed by a stranger may hurt, but betrayal by a trusted friend makes one realize one’s misperceptions…and then wondering how long and how often and to what extent you’ve been wrong…that compounds a hurt with self-doubt. So many little, trusted elements of our day can betray us and undermine our confidences. But these are not the feelings nor ruminations of a lucky man…
Even as my luck has changed, I try to hang onto that one thing that can make other things feel/seem/look better. I believe that there is that one thing that drives each of us to do all that we do; that one thing that drives each of us to be all that we are…that one thing that is all that matters…that is everything! I don’t know exactly what that one thing is…and I trust that it is different for everyone…but I believe that there is that one thing that has buoyed me up in the past and will get me through this string of misfortunes.
Curley (Jack Palance) in City Slickers (1991) and Michael (Robert DeNiro) in The Deer Hunter (1978) both mention the “one thing” and the “one shot” that we find/get in life; perhaps Gatsby is reaching for that one thing in the form of the green light at the end of the pier when Nick watches him from the bushes, or maybe Dulcinea is that one thing for Don Quixote. I think of it as the tonic of any song, the one basic clear defined tone that gives meaning to all the other notes in that key. Like at the end of the stereotypical knock on the door…rat tat a tat tat, tat…you hear that final note even when it isn’t tapped out. Your head and ears hear it unheard because you know the sound of it even though it hasn’t been tapped out…it’s that one thing that we hang onto and know and trust, even when a string of misfortunes just keeps stringing along.
I suppose it may be what some people call God or Love or Faith…all kinds of nebulous and frightening words. But I think it is a mystery of intertwined values for each of us, making any singular word inaccurate, approximate, unsatisfying. I know that my luck—good or bad, god-sent or god-cursed—won’t overcome my one thing. There is no word for that.