I was just sitting there minding my own business (totally unaware that I was about to become part of a story about a person just sitting there minding her own business when suddenly something totally unexpected happens) when suddenly something totally unexpected happened: my car was rear-ended, knocking loose some random thoughts about the nature of luck.
For years I've had a running disagreement with a colleague known for his good luck (in raffles, on the golf course, at the poker table, and just about everywhere luck is invoked). "You make your own luck," he insists. "If you think you're lucky, you'll be lucky."
My problem with this theory begins with the difficulty of distinguishing between good luck and bad luck. Take that fender-bender: I was driving away from a baseball game amidst hundreds of cars; what are the odds that any particular car should have ended up right behind mine? (To quote a student's T-shirt slogan: I'm an English major--you do the math.) If one of us had stopped for a burger or turned left instead of right then maybe I wouldn't have been rear-ended. Bad luck!
But wait: it was a low-speed accident that caused no injuries and left no mark on either car. Instead of spending a gorgeous afternoon standing around waiting to file police reports and insurance claims, we got back in our cars and moved on. What are the odds of getting rear-ended in a way that causes no discernible damage? Good luck!
Hold on: that was my second automotive mishap in a week. In the first, a college administrator and his wife walked right out in front of my car so that I had to slam on the brakes and squeal to a stop to narrowly avoid hitting them. (They didn't see me. What am I, invisible? The student who rear-ended me after the baseball game said he "lost it in the sun," suggesting that my car is suffering from an outbreak of Intermittent Invisibility Syndrome.)
Most of us would agree that mangling one's boss qualifies as bad luck, so missing him (just barely!) would have to be considered good luck. (Or good reflexes. Or good brakes.)
All I know is that I felt such relief at narrowly escaping maiming or killing my boss that I was inclined to pay that grace forward a week later when a student rear-ended my car. Given his age and gender, it would have been really bad luck for his insurance rates if I'd decided to file a police report. So he had the bad luck to run into me, but he did it on a day when I was grateful for the good luck I'd experienced in failing to mangle an administrator who'd had the bad luck to walk right out in front of a moving car. Once you add up all those pluses and minuses, where does this incident land on the good luck/bad luck continuum?
If my lucky colleague is correct, I could have been sitting in my car thinking, "I'm lucky, so lucky, so very very lucky" and maybe I wouldn't have been rear-ended. Alternately, if I'd been sitting there sulking over my sad sorry pathetic string of bad luck, maybe I would have been rear-ended by a cement mixer--or, I don't know, a cargo plane flying overhead could have suffered a catastrophic failure and dropped a grand piano on my head.
It could happen. (To Wile E. Coyote.)
But I wasn't celebrating my good luck or mourning my bad luck or making any kind of luck at all. I was just sitting there minding my own business when something totally unexpected happened...and a week later, I still don't know what kind of something it was.