Today is Friday, the 13th!
A day to be wary of bad luck.
When I noticed the date on the calendar, I started thinking about black cats crossing my path, ladders I shouldn’t walk under, umbrellas that should not be opened in the house, and many other common superstitions. But I have been having a pretty good day. It dawned on me that I am not so certain there is such a thing as bad luck. I prefer to think like Kevin Kline’s character Paden in Silverado—there is just luck. How you look at life makes it good or bad. Attitude really does make a difference!
Here are a few things that have happened to me over the years that I prefer to see simply as lucky—the good or bad changes depending on how I look at it.
Have you ever had a rear axle fall out of your car? While driving? This happened to me back in 2000 when I was away from home for a conference in my trusty Toyota. There were cell phones back then, but I did not have one. I admit it was not a fun experience. But, this happened about 20 minutes after I decided to stay on the main road rather than taking a small side road back through the hills in Napa Valley. When the ker-thunk came about, I was less than a mile from an exit—and the tow truck guy gave me a ride to my hotel after getting my car to someplace where it could be assessed. Former colleagues lived in the area—I was going to be seeing them for dinner anyway. They graciously welcomed me into their home and gave me access to a spare car, so I could visit wineries while they went to work and my car woes were being addressed. It was not a great experience, but I do feel rather lucky.
Other situations surfaced with my earlier car, my 1965 Volkswagon Bug. When I like a car, I drive it and drive it and drive it. I traded this car in, in 1982 after it had close to 200,000 miles on its rebuilt engine. It was a great little car! I tend to forget that my boyfriend crashed it once. Or that the gear shift lever sheared off, at the base, with the car in neutral. It was parked at the time, and I almost made it to class without being late. Things like that are fixable. This car was involved in a couple other lucky events too.
In 1979, when I lived in Alabama, I took off driving to Indiana for Thanksgiving. I got a good start by leaving really early without much sleep. Unfortunately, I kept nodding off, so I pulled to the side to take a short nap on a desolate stretch that had no exits or call boxes in sight. Being careful to not lose my keys, I purposefully left them in the ignition. When I dozed off, my knee hit the key, so when I awoke about an hour later my six-volt battery had been drained. The car would not start! My dog and I got out of the car to look for help but saw nothing for miles. Within a few minutes, a semi-truck pulled in behind me. The guy had two full trailers behind his cab, but he assured me we could jump start my car. And we did. Picture that semi, pushing my little bug down the shoulder of a major highway with my dog’s head hanging out the window to keep track of everything. When my car jumped to life, the truck driver tooted his horn and moved off. I made it to my aunt’s without further problem—and only a bit later than expected.
The drive home from that long weekend took more like 16 hours of straight driving instead of the 12 hours it took to get there. There was a lot of traffic. And rain. And construction in Birmingham that I could not avoid. Things were going okay until it got dark. I mentioned I had a six-volt battery, right? Who knew that after hours of driving, that little battery could either run the lights or work the windshield wipers, but not both?! I was pretty lucky, on the darker stretches, the rain sort of stopped—and when the rain was the worst I was in stop-and-go traffic and everyone else’s lights worked. I got home and the car just sort of stopped at the entrance of the apartment complex, leaving me about a half mile from my apartment. In the morning, I was figuring I would need to call for a tow or jump or something, but it started right up. After work, I took my trusty stead to a mechanic who could find nothing wrong. He speculated that the bristles on the alternator brush were so worn that when they got too hot, they stopped connecting to whatever they needed to connect to. His advice? Don’t drive so long next time. From then on, I drove no more than 10 straight hours a day and never had that problem again!
In 1987, I moved back to California from Texas, taking a one-semester leave replacement position in Marysville, CA. As soon as I got there in February, it became clear that the job would roll into a permanent one because the person I was replacing was not coming back. I did not even send out applications for other jobs. Then in early May, my supervisor was relieved of duty as a dean and was out of work unless there was an open faculty position for him to step into. He took “my job.” I was distraught. Remember, I did not even have any applications pending. In about a week, Cal State University called from an application I had sent out as a long shot over a year earlier, asking if I still was interested in a job. You bet I was! And Cal State Bakersfield was good to me. When the budget crunch hit the state three years later and Cal State was probably going to eliminate those of us on yearly contracts, I accepted a tenure track position at Moorpark College. Lucky how things work out.
Since 2006, I have had four surgeries. The two emergency surgeries were actually life-threatening—and I am here to talk about them. Another was for cancer—and I have been a survivor since 2007 and did not even need chemo or radiation therapies. The final surgery was necessary to reverse a colostomy and get some of my energy and stamina back. It took much longer than I expected to recover from that fourth surgery, but I did it! And for the past year, I have been healthier than I have been for years. Most days my blood pressure readings are even okay, and I have no problems with diabetes, high cholesterol or heart. How much luckier can I be?
I know. I know. Some people call me a cock-eyed optimist or Pollyanna. Of course problems surface. It gets hot in Bakersfield and summer is on its way! Too many of my work offices did not have a window. But do know just how many pictures of windows can be found to give the illusion of openness and space on a blank wall? Lots. My first such office is when I framed the Mary Engelbreit drawing included above. I faced a dead battery the other day, but the AAA guy arrived in about 30 minutes. I hit the road soon thereafter, and the battery has been holding its charge since then. My elderly parents at times can drive me crazy, but they are still here and basically healthy. Their 70th wedding anniversary is coming up this summer. A great reason to celebrate how lucky I am to live close enough to see them often.
Things are not perfect, far from it. But the best way I know to survive is to just keep going, one day at a time. The only thing I can truly control is how I react to what life throws me. I choose to be lucky. How about you?