A Series of Fortunate Events

by J.D. Roth

Last Tuesday, I was cleaning the apartment when I noticed that my A/C was producing severe condensation once again. I knocked on the neighbors’ door. “Have have had problems with your A/C unit?” I asked.

“No,” said Jan. “Ours works fine.”

“Would you like a glass of wine?” asked Sheila, his wife.

I held up the half-finished beer in my hand. “Not yet,” I said. She laughed. “Well, at least sit and talk with us while we drink our wine.” And so I did.

Jan and Sheila are both seventy, and for the six months I’ve lived in this building, they’ve been asking me to drink wine with them. The timing never worked until now.

I joined Jan and Sheila at 4:30 in the afternoon. For four hours, we chatted about travel, motorcycles, and more. Sheila drank sangria. Jan drank beer. I took a little of both. When Kim arrived home from work, Sheila made us a lovely dinner with a tomato-basil salad, fried cheese, and corn on the cob.

The food was great, but the conversation was better. My favorite thread of discussion revolved around the role of luck and good fortune. I told them I’d recently written about accepting responsibility for your life and the things that happen to you, which led quite naturally to a discussion of Portland’s booming homelessness problem.

“Do you think the homeless are responsible for their situation?” Sheila asked. We talked it out, deciding that some homeless folks are responsible for their plight — and others aren’t. (Somebody mentioned the following quote, which I like: “It may not be your fault, but it’s your problem.”)

Jan and Sheila also talked about their friend, who’d just undergone open heart surgery that day. We talked about other people we know who have had bad breaks or fallen on hard times. At one point, I tried to draw a comparison between a couple of situations. Jan stopped me.

“You can’t compare misfortunes,” Jan said, an insight I believe is profound. You can’t compare misfortunes. Bad luck is bad luck. It sucks, no matter what the situation is. (Jan’s comment reminded me of the opening line to Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”)

A while later, Jan was talking about the twists and turns his life has taken. He’s a curious man, and always has been. He’s willing to try new things and to talk to new people. As a result, good things happen to him. This reminded me of one of my favorite books, Luck is No Accident [my review], which encourages readers to open themselves to “happenstance” by embracing life head on.

“Most of my life has been this way,” Jan told me. “It’s a series of fortunate events.” I liked that statement too. I feel like my own life has been a series of fortunate events over the past few years. And the more I share, the more open I am, the luckier I get.

I think I should drink wine with Jan and Sheila more often.

Updated: 12 August 2013

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