In my first novel, The Devil's Redhead, one of my characters makes that pronouncement, equating life with luck, and being lucky with terror. It was my way of describing the anxiety I saw in so many of the nouveau riche clients my wife Terri and I saw in her law practice, well-to-do people with real money for the first time in their lives and terrified, every minute of every day, that it might disappear.
My own experience with luck to that point had been much different, but that's largely because it had to do with love, not money, which means it had to do with Terri.
Unless I'm mistaken, we met by chance.
It was January, 1990, she was twenty-eight, in her final year of law school, and walking down Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. She quite literally turned my head, but I could have just walked on. Something, though, said stop.
My brother had died six months earlier of AIDS, and before his death he begged me to get married, so he could assure himself I wouldn't be lonely. In some way, this plea echoed in my mind when Terri walked past me that morning. I have had several curious experiences in the aftermath of both my brother's death and Terri's, things I sometimes think of as communications. This was one of them.
Regardless, I turned around, followed her into the Clarinet Cafe. It took me several minutes to get up the nerve to say something-and then I couldn't stop, jabbering for the next two hours. We went out shortly thereafter, argued through the entire first date, but kept seeing each other. Moved in together. Married.
Simply put, she was the love of my life, I was hers, and we were damn happy. Even if my brother or his ghost did play a part in turning me around, I can't believe her happening by me that day was the consequence of some inscrutable cosmic plan. Not in my make-up, as they say. And our happiness wasn't chance-we worked at it, nurtured it, never took it or each other for granted.
Then the second turn of luck came, this one for the worse.
In describing how we met just above, I referred to a "communication," a voice that wasn't quite a voice, a presence I can't be sure was there. I felt it again September 12th, 2000, the night Terri told me a sonogram revealed a complex mass in her left ovary. This time, the voice-that-isn't-a-voice said: This is why you were chosen. You will take care of her.
I did, but despite fighting hard she never caught a break. She died less than four months later, of ovarian cancer.
She deserved a much longer life and a gentler end, but that's not the way of luck, of course; it doesn't give a damn about what anyone deserves.
Living with that understanding-in my bones, as Terri would say-has been a struggle. I feel viscerally the fragility of all things, and love has not been easy since her passing. I became, as my own character foretold, scared.
And so I had to learn the simple truth that the only way to withstand the vagaries of luck is through simple courage, perseverance, patience. The willingness to love despite the certainty of loss-not just loss, but suffering. That doesn't mean I'm no longer frightened. I've just learned there's no escape, and I've accepted the need to embrace the fear as the only way to live with open eyes and a caring heart.
For luck will step in again, it always does. God does roll dice. But that doesn't mean I have to sit there at the table, dreading every throw.
Causes David Corbett Supports
Buddhist Peace Fellowship, PEN USA, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Doctors Without Borders, Asociación Pro-Búsqueda, The Center for Victims of...