Lucky

lucky


Now that I have an inconvenient medical condition, I think about what I did to cause it. I smoked for fourteen years, knowing that it was a terrible thing for me, knowing that Dad died of lung cancer, as did several of his brothers and sisters. I think about eating badly, and exposure to all kinds of pesticides and chemicals and god knows what over the years.

 

 

Also, being superstitious, I think about all the taboos I’ve broken: all the salt I’ve spilled without throwing a few grains over my shoulder, all the ladders I’ve walked under.

 

 

Mostly I think guiltily of all the people I’ve been unpleasant to, or actually hurt, either accidentally or on purpose. (Of course I have. You have too. But we’re talking about me, not you.)

 

 

But I have had very much happiness in this life – more than I deserve, really. Partner is largely responsible for much of that. But I was lucky to grow up in a place that was as beautiful as Washington state; lucky to go to a funky Catholic-liberal college like Gonzaga in the crazy 1970s; lucky that my first city was Spokane, an easy-to-navigate place that wasn’t at all threatening; lucky to get into Brown for grad school (though I threw it over after a year); lucky to find my way to Providence, my dear dowdy hometown for thirty-five years now; lucky to get into the Peace Corps, and meet all kinds of interesting people, American and Moroccan and British and Tunisian, some of whom still keep in touch with me; lucky after that to work at Brown University, in a job that has mostly been very good for me, and to work alongside people whom I have grown to love and respect.

 

 

And then there’s Partner.

 

 

I cannot even tell you what he means to me. We met in 1995, and I knew as soon as I saw him that I probably loved him. Does that sound silly? He tells me that he felt the same way, and I respect him too much to tell him that I have a hard time believing that anyone could ever love me at first sight. At any rate, we were living together within a few years. We moved to our present residence in 2002 – a nice little apartment, just right for the two of us. I’ve grown to love Partner’s family – his two sisters and their families – and I think of them and love them as my family, just as I feel about my own family back in Washington.

 

 

Partner and I have grown older together. We’ve traveled together. We’ve been angry with each other, and reconciled. We’ve been sick, and taken care of each other. We shop for groceries together, and go to work together in the morning.

 

 

I’d be lost without him.

 

 

To paraphrase Frank Herbert: My life has been mostly (undeservedly) sweet. But Partner has been the sweetest thing in it.

 

 

No matter what happens from here on, I consider myself very lucky.


 

Magical thinking


Partner is a very pragmatic person, but I know he believes in luck. If his team (the Patriots / the Red Sox / the Bruins) is too far ahead or too far behind, he doesn’t like it. He doesn’t want to watch, but he’s afraid to look away; I think he’s afraid that his awareness is affecting the game in some quantum way, and he doesn’t want to stir the pot too much. He gets very jittery, I can tell you.

 

I catch myself talking to the world a lot, as if I could influence it. It’s not exactly praying, and it’s definitely not bargaining – what can I offer the rain gods, or the gods of luck, if they do what I want them to do? And how would I be able to tell, in any case? But evidently I find the conversation comforting. I do it a lot.

 

So Partner and I are both magical thinkers.

 

I have read Jared Diamond and Richard Dawkins on the idea of “cargo.” This is the idea, common in some South Pacific locations, that Westerners have lots of mysterious stuff, including airplanes, radios, guns, and medical equipment. They’re never seen to make this stuff. If an airplane breaks, they don’t fix it; they send for a new one, and magically a new one appears.

 

Silly people, who think airplanes and radios are magical!

 

When I lived in Morocco, I heard lots of stories about the former king, Mohammed V. He had baraka, magical power, partly because he was king, partly because he was considered a saint.

 

My favorite story was this:

 

The French, who used to control most of Morocco, did not like Mohammed V, as they were afraid he might lead his country to independence someday. They exiled him first to Corsica, then to Madagascar. On the way to Madagascar, the airplane carrying Mohammed V had engine trouble. One of the crew came back to the passenger compartment to let the king know there was a problem. Mohammed V was lying down; he had a heart condition. When he heard the news, he rose from his couch, went to the cockpit, took off his prayer cap, put it on the plane’s control panel, and said: “Fly.”

 

And the plane flew.

 

Mohammed V’s son, Hassan II, was no saint. He was by all accounts a venal man, shrewd but not brilliant, willful, certainly not saintly. But he was the King, and he inherited his father’s baraka.

 

He survived two brutal assassination attempts. One was at his birthday party in Skhirat, south of the capital, in 1971; a group of Moroccan military cadets came into the palace and opened fire. As many as a hundred people died, by some accounts.

 

But the king survived.

 

A year later, returning from France in the royal plane, pretty much the entire Moroccan air force tried to shoot him down.

 

And again, the king survived.

 

Funny, funny. People believe in magic.

 

I don’t believe in magic. Do you?

 

Oh, wait a minute. Yes, I do.

 


 

 

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