When Being Unfortunate is Good Fortune

People talk about luck all the time. Good luck that this happened, bad luck that that happened. It is spoken of as if “luck” is an actual thing, with a consciousness or purpose. Yet, rationally, we should all understand that luck does not exist. There is “chance.” There are “odds.” But there is no such thing as luck outside of an emotional response to fortune (or lack of it). That is to say, one might feel fortunate if, for instance, one were to be diagnosed with a chronic disease early enough to do something to stem the tide, or live in a country where the survival rates are generally above 50 percent and increasing rather than decreasing.

Of course, there are those who would be in a wealthy country with cutting edge healthcare and an early diagnosis who would still only see their personal misfortune with such a diagnosis. But this isn’t about those pathetically myopic individuals, this is about the reason we should be glad we don’t live in India. And if you happen to be reading this from within the borders of India, my apologies, but hopefully you are a politically motivated activist with the means to make your voice heard.

Politically, India appears to the casual outsider as a breeding ground of corrupt self-interest. Sociologically, it appears to foster ever-greater class discrepancy. While the cheap prices may encourage tourists to visit, they also continue to propagate a culture of poverty and industrial abuses. And the country does not appear to have learned from its history of mistakes. For one of the oldest cultures on the planet, which used to be a center of intellectual advancement, this is an astounding truth.

In the face of over-crowded cities rife with shanty towns and slums, India is also the hotbed of new bacteria that are impervious to all commonly used antibiotics. That’s correct: antibiotic use has been so pervasive in that country that they are becoming useless (most, if not all newborns are administered antibiotics as a precaution and 58,000 of them still died from bacterial infections in 2013). While this brings with it the threat of these resistant strains getting exported to other countries, and thus making this a truly international concern, it is indicative of the problem that is India. And yet, what is the new government’s response to the potential social and economic threats the country faces? Massive rollbacks on environmental protections in order to free up industrial development. That is correct, the good fortune being bestowed upon the rich is that they can further degrade the already heavily abused and polluted country in order to increase their wealth on the backs of the impoverished. And as a special legacy, poison the poor in the process.

Understandably, it is important to create jobs. And some of the poor may benefit from this environmental disaster waiting to happen, at least in the short term before the broader effects of Climate Change are brought around more quickly than necessary. India is likely to be hit extremely hard by droughts over the coming decades and there is already little that can be done to stem that tide. But the vision being exercised by the government there is surprisingly narrow, to the point of appearing merely greedy, on one hand, and of being a potential international crisis on the other.

Which reminds me how fortunate I am, in so many ways.

I have the luxury of sitting at my desk, ruminating on how a country on the opposite side of the planet is screwing things up for its own citizens, and calling for attention to avert a global catastrophe still years in the making. I have the luxury of knowing that while my city may have particularly smoggy days, there are cities in India and China where I would need more than a simple mask to breath anything comparably as fresh. My car may be over ten years old, but it still gets nearly 40 mpg and, frankly, isn’t a bike or motor scooter on which I have to transport my whole family. Although it is excessively packaged, the produce I buy at Trader Joe’s is generally edible and pathogen-free. Even though I live off a freeway exit, I’m not sleeping out in the open air in the middle of traffic. In short, my problems are very First World. Yes, I need to get up on Wednesday morning and go in for chemotherapy, but I have a place to do that which is safe, clean and close. Yes, I have mutated cells growing throughout my body, but I know they are there and scientists have devised ways to kill or slow the growth of those cells. These things are speed bumps on my daily journey, not roadblocks. They may screw up my schedule and make it harder for me to make some plans, but they don’t stop me from living.

When you really drill down to the details, my diagnosis of cancer was a really good thing, and very fortunate overall. The other side of that coin was no diagnosis and me “toughing it out” until I began to feel better, which is how I began to feel shortly after the X-ray that started the process. Because I have so steadily improved over the past three months, nobody would have guessed that there was a cancerous tumor in my lung, and certainly not that the cancer had spread. And while that may sound so very horrible on a surface level, and I’ll admit it is truly annoying, the level of good fortune far outweighs the bad. This “unfortunate” diagnosis was very fortunate to receive, and I am grateful that I did go in for that X-ray and that the ensuing battery of tests and scans occurred. And I am grateful that thanks to Obamacare (a term I rarely use, because it really is the Affordable Care Act I am talking about), not only will I be able to retain medical insurance coverage but our family’s costs actually went down this month. So don’t dwell on my misfortune, and don’t dwell on your own, because all that means is that you are looking at too small of a picture.

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