I’m a Lucky Man

People who know me might think it strange that I would pick the above title for this essay since I don’t believe in “Luck” and I certainly don’t believe in “Fate” or predetermination. I remember the first time I saw the line “I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul”[1]. Ever since then it’s been one of my favorite quotes and a philosophy I have come to live by. I believe any person has two basic options in the way they wish to live, they can simply take it as it comes and hope for the best, or they can attempt to control the direction of their life by making a conscious effort to do so. While the former is certainly the easier, it is I suspect, the least interesting, and most likely results in a generally unhappy life with little in the way of rewarding experiences. Someone who follows that path probably spends a good part of their time complaining about how they’ve been screwed by “Fate”. On the other hand a person who decides that they can affect the direction their lives take and are willing to make a conscious effort to do so are much more likely to live a full and rewarding life and develop a much better and happier frame of reference.

 So why do I consider myself a lucky man when I don’t even believe in “Luck” or predetermination? Simply put, while I firmly believe you can control your own destiny, I know that there are many factors beyond anyone’s control and the key is to recognize those factors and accept that they are beyond our control. Once that point of acceptance and recognition is reached then any potential negative impact becomes manageable. One such event is the circumstances of one’s birth. It is that set of circumstances in my life that I can not ascribe to anything other than luck or fate, and is the foundation for the statement “I’m a Lucky Man”.

 I was born in the fall in 1950 in an industrial town just outside of Frankfort, Germany and spent my first 14 months in an extremely poor (financially) orphanage run by a nunnery. I spent my days in a large room with many other children with very little to occupy or entertain us, having little in the way of toys or other forms of stimulus. Being in post war Germany the nunnery was unable to always provide even basic nutritional benefits, so we were generally malnourished and suffered from a wide range of health problems. As a result a number of the children never attained the age of two. Indeed, at 14 months of age I was unable to sit up unassisted, an age when a healthy baby is well on the road to walking. Then one day, an American woman came in and (in the words of my Mother) took one look at me lying there on the floor of the nursery and knew in an instant I was the baby boy she had been looking for.   According to her recounting, as she was looking at me I threw out my arms as if in invitation to adopt me and that, for her, was the clincher. While I can’t claim it was a conscious effort on my part, it’s fun to imagine that even then I was working to create my own destiny! That occurrence marked the day when fortune smiled upon me, and has been with me ever since.

Before the day was over I was on my way to Paris and a brand new home that totally changed the direction my life was to take. A life so completely different than anything I would have experienced had I not been adopted that it’s hard for me to even imagine what it would have been like, had I survived the conditions prior to my adoption.

My Mother relates the first several years with them as a series of ups and downs while they worked to reverse the damage from those 14 months of malnutrition I had suffered from while in the orphanage. I didn’t like food with any color to it having been feed only Pablum, a pale wheat based cream cereal, so getting me to eat healthy things like green vegetables was an ever greater challenge than with the average kid. Even food that required chewing was something of a challenge to get me to eat at first. The doctor was a frequent visitor, sometimes having to make house calls late at night as my parents spent the night watching over me and hoping for the best. Quite obviously I made it through those years and after a time I grew healthy and have suffered very few long-term effects considering the considerable malnutrition I suffered from during that critical first year of life, (even more good fortune!).

That was only the start of my new found luck as my new Father was a Foreign Service Officer and Diplomat working for the US Department of State. As such we, my family and I, enjoyed many luxuries while on assignment overseas and though I never thought of us as being wealthy, our lifestyle was in many respects much richer than most families back in the US. Indeed, because we spent so much of our time living overseas, I believe our lives were all the more exciting.   Because of my father position as an FSO, I have lived in such romantic places as Paris, France and visited such exotic ports as Hong Kong. I‘ve swum in the Mediterranean Sea, and the Gulf of Siam and walked among the ruins of ancient cultures in Africa and several equally ancient temple ruins in Southeast Asia. I’ve resided in such extremes of climate as the Sahara Desert where I strolled across its pale reddish sands and the sub-tropical rain forests of Thailand where it rained six months of the year. I’ve stood at the feet of the worlds largest Buddha and visited the sacred snake temples and monkey gardens of Malaysia. I traveled by train, powered by a coal fired steam engine, from Bangkok, Thailand all the way to the island city Penang and then to the port of Singapore at the tip of the Malaysian peninsula, a distance of nearly a thousand miles. I’ve sailed into the port of Tunis aboard a tramp steamer, and traversed the Atlantic Ocean on the return leg of the maiden voyage of the worlds fastest luxury ocean liner, the SS Untied States. I’ve traveled by barge along the Chao Phraya River and rafted along parts of the River Kwai and flown a dozen times around the world by jetliner. I’ve walked the halls of a castle made entirely of ice in the Swiss Alps and stood in the throne rooms of several of Mad King Ludwig’s castles in Bavaria. Those are just a sprinkling of the adventures that my new life had in store for me that fateful day and to imagine all of those experiences, and many more, were to come my way in just the first 18 years of my life!

As you can see, not only did my family and I live in some very interesting locations on 4 different continents but we also traveled extensively throughout each region of the world we lived in. Mixed in with all those adventures were the infinite variety of foods and the diversity of cultures and ethnic backgrounds of the peoples native to all those foreign lands. It is my firm belief that exposure to all those different races and cultures has, more than anything, been responsible for shaping the manor in which I view the world and its people and molded my belief system.  So, yes indeed, I am a Lucky Man!

1 From Invictus, by William Ernest Henley