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Michael Beller’s Corner: Luck

A four-leaf clover. (Wikimedia Commons)
A four-leaf clover. (Wikimedia Commons)

I have always felt that it is much better to be good than lucky. That being said, I have, at times, depended on luck to get by. For a time, that dependency led me to an almost overwhelming obsession with lucky charms. Anyone who has seen the chaos of my office knows where those sorts of obsessions lead.

My introduction to the concept of good luck started in kindergarten. It was the last day of the month and the teacher announced in class that anyone who remembered to say “Jiminy Cricket” the moment that they woke up on the first day of any month would have good luck for the entire month. Of course, the next morning came and I completely forgot and every time something bad happened to me I cursed myself for having missed my chance to say “Jiminy Cricket” when it mattered.  Months came and went and I continued missing my opportunity to say “Jiminy Cricket.” I became frustrated and saw all my failures as being caused by a lack of luck.

During a Bugs Bunny cartoon (where he sings about looking over a four leaf clover) that I first started considering lucky charms. They were tangible things, not something that I had to remember the moment I woke up, once a month.  Quickly, I found myself starting each day frantically scouring my school’s lawn in a desperate search for a four leaf clover that would protect me against being called on in class. Sure, I came to class prepared, but speaking up in class would turn my knees to butter and I hated butter knees more than anything except, possibly, brussel sprouts.

My belief in lucky charms quickly spiraled out of control. If I was called on in class on a day that I had found a four leaf clover, I thought that it was because my first clover wasn’t strong enough. If one lucky clover was good, two lucky clovers must be twice as good. Luck, it seemed to me, could be gathered, saved, and added to.  I was becoming a hoarder. It was not uncommon to see me stubbornly refusing to go into class without having two, three, or even four lucky clovers. It was also becoming more and more difficult to find four leaf clovers. I branched out. I convinced my mother to buy me a lucky horseshoe belt for more permanent protection. I collected jars full of lucky (though very unhappy) ladybugs. And when the inspectors at the Indianapolis Airport made me throw away my pockets full of lucky buckeyes, I cried for hours.

It was my grandfather who finally came to my rescue, though I sure didn’t consider it a rescue at the time. My grandfather was mischievous man who loved his grease stained dungarees almost as much as he loved practical jokes. One day, he and I were walking down a street. He tossed a penny 20 or so yards ahead and recited, “Michael, see a penny, pick it up, and all the day you’ll have good luck!”

A lucky penny! I sprinted down the block as fast as I could, but just before I got there, my grandfather shouted, “Michael wait! See a penny, let it lie, and then bad luck will pass you by!”

And there I stood, my poor, overtaxed, first grade brain struggling to work out whether it was better to pick up the penny and have good luck or to let the penny lie and have bad luck pass me by.  The incident changed me somehow and, much to the relief of all the ladybugs out there, I paused in my obsession with good luck charms.

Here is something that’s library-cool to know. An asterisk (*) can be used in library databases as a wildcard. What that means is, I can go to the Oxford English Dictionary and search for “*phobia” and get a list of every word ending in “phobia” listed in the OED (Go ahead and try it. It’s cool)! As it turns out, I spent most of my youth suffering from Panophobia, the fear of everything. I must have turned to lucky charms to get through my day. There are plenty of other phobias to read about as well and the clever use of an asterisk can bring them all to your screen in seconds!

But who wants to read about phobias? Not me, and especially not me when I can go straight to the library database Ebrary, run a search on “good luck” and find out that there are over 12,000 full-text, digital books that contain the phrase “good luck.” The first three pages of results link me directly to nearly 60 books, each one a country study that describes holidays, ceremonies, and superstitions (not to mention, much fuller descriptions of that country’s culture, economics, and political structure). It’s a whole new world of good luck for me now and my obsession is back. Don’t worry about the ladybugs, I have bigger and luckier targets now (and they’re too fast for me anyway). Don’t be too surprised to see me happily lugging around a figurehead from an old wooden sailing ship and if you hear that I have been arrested while trying to stuff the Blarney Stone into my satchel, remember that I have been a librarian at Mills College and that makes me the luckiest person ever.