Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Of Loss and Luck

Yes, I know this blog post is supposed to be about the topic card I found last week, "who do you sorely miss." I'm not veering far. This is about loss and luck.

I got into a bit of a Facebook-comments battle with someone who posted a story about the folks who took advantage of a technical error with their EBT cards that left them with no spending limit and went on a spree. While, yes, that was despicable behavior, the comments left about this article were cruel and disparaging to anyone using public assistance or even being in the position of needing it, with some especially vicious yet typical mean-girl comments from the poster's wife (they fell into the eloquent 'oh no she didn't, don't make me come after you, I'm gonna beat you up behind the silk mill after school, which really means I'll just launch myself at you, scream and pull your hair' typical invective of the less-intelligent variety of mean girls that populated my hometown area and for all I know, still do.)

I was, quite literally, stunned at the viciousness that poured out through their comments for anyone who was not as well off as they are.

Maybe I'm naive, but I didn't realize people hated people who are poorer than them. Loathing those who have more than you, that I understand, but why all the hate for someone who'd fallen on hard times and needed a hand?

I got to wondering if this was just the way we think as Americans. We've always idolized rich people- we emulate them, we eagerly read every tiny detail about their lives, we're supposed to aspire to become them. But did we resent poor people as much during the Great Depression as we do now?

I posted a question on Facebook asking this and got some thoughtful responses. The most succinct was from a friend who had seen Garrison Keillor speak recently and mentioned that he said no one resented or mocked poor people back then because everyone was poor. Considering the hard financial times we're going through, I wonder why we don't share that same attitude. Very few of us can claim we're completely financially secure; I don't know anyone who doesn't have some worries about money, who doesn't worry about the roof caving in over their heads, both figuratively and literally. Our incomes have declined while the cost of goods and services have increased. We're really not any better off than we were before the financial crisis hit.

And why don't these people turn their anger to those who did this to us in the first place? Why is their disdain saved for the single mom with two toddlers who husband ran out on her instead of the Wall Street maverick who made record profits off other people's misfortune? I suspect that that attitude is driven by fear, a subterranean ice-cold dread you hide deep down in your consciousness and fight very hard to keep from thinking about, a fear that that down-on-their-luck person could be you.

Because it could. Honestly, it's not so much about doing everything right or following the rules; it's all about luck. Some people who do bad things have good luck; some good folks who try their hardest every day get crapped on by bad luck. Luck is a dirty, fickle little troll who haphazardly and arbitrarily decides to either kiss you or spit on you. You have no control over luck; maybe that's what's so scary.

It made me think of a friend of mine. We knew each other in high school- not well,  we shared the comradery of the mat-sitters- the unathletic amongst us who sought sanctuary in the furthest reaches of the gym during PE to avoid being called on to participate. I got to know her better through Facebook as adults. She was funny, sharp, witty, kind, and above all, honest. She was the first to call someone out for perpetuating a bullshit stereotype. I wished I could hear her voice on the discussions I was reading.

My friend was a good person who knew bad luck; she knew struggle. I read her posts as she learned of her mother's illness, hundreds of miles away. She shared with us her desperation to visit her mother one last time so she could meet her little girl, so her daughter would get to meet her grandmother just one time. Somehow, she made it happen. I felt like I was on the journey with her- watching her little girl's wonder at her first plane trip, the weird hotel where they were staying, her joy at seeing her daughter and her mother together.

Her mother passed away not long after the trip. It was her spot of good luck that she'd been able to see it before that happened. I admired her so much as she dealt with her grief and took the steps she needed to move on with her life. I shared in her joy at buying her first ever new couches. (My own new couches, my first ever pieces of furniture that weren't handed down from someone else, were still a source of wonder to me, too.) Her family adopted a kitten. Things seemed good again.

Then her husband fell ill. Seriously ill. My friend ranted and raved, she was furious at fate- that fickle troll's ugly cousin- for dealing her this hand so soon after facing tragedy. She threw herself into caring for him and fighting his illness with him. Things were serious, but he was responding to treatments and there was hope ahead.

And then one day, as I checked her page, I saw a post that was not written by her, but her husband. My friend had suddenly collapsed while walking from her car to her apartment with her daughter and died. They thought it might have been a blood clot from recent surgery. She'd been complaining about sharp leg pain and had had a blood clot previously.

I didn't know what to do with this information. We were still young enough for the death of a classmate to be unusual and strange. It was just so sudden. It just seemed so unfair. She had brand new couches, dammit! She had plans for the future! I think she had tickets for a cruise. She had a brand-new kitten. She had a little girl to raise.

I thought of my friend and her family a lot. They were good people. They didn't deserve what happened to them. They didn't ask for that. It was just bad luck.

And then yesterday I happened on to my friend's Facebook page where her husband had occasionally posted updates on how their little girl was doing. Another friend, one I don't know, had posted a notice.

Just a little over a month after his wife- my friend- had died, her husband succumbed to his illness and passed away. I really was in shock this time. All I could think of was, "What horrible luck." And to think of their daughter, just four years old, having to deal with all this tragedy. Only people in olden times, in your grandparents' time, lost their entire family when they were so small. It seems like such an old-fashioned thing to have happen to you. Even the word they use to describe someone who has lost their parents is so antiquated, so Dickensian- "orphan."

My friend's little girl is being cared for by family members. I wish her so much peace, love, and good counseling or therapy. And I most fervently wish that her family's hard luck has been used up, and she has nothing but the good kind from here on out.


  1. Dang, you said it. If you have some luck in life, thank your good fortune because everybody's life can go up and down. I can't say who, but a person I am semi-related to had always been, well, snobbish and abrubt and bossy. A stockbroker who had been to Harvard. It has been 2 years since they were laid off and still no job...this person is, like a caterpillar, becoming somebody new. Why does it take personal tragedy for people to begin changing, becoming more compassionate and understanding? Try to put yourself in somebody else's shoes from time to time and thank your lucky stars and try not to, as F Scott Fitzgerald's Gatsby begins "my father told me not to judge people too quickly because they did not grow up with the advantages I did" (close to the quote )