What good luck, what bad Luck

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One of my favorite children’s books is called What Good Luck, What Bad Luck by Remy Charlip. On alternating pages, we follow the vicissitudes (a Fancy Nancy word, another of my favorite books for kids) of the book’s young protagonist. It goes something like this:

What good luck! John was invited to a birthday party.

What bad luck. The party was in Paris and he was in New York

What good luck! A friend loaned him his airplane.

What bad luck. The plane crashed.

Ands so on in that vein. This is the way life feels these days, especially in the last week. Late Sunday night we got a notification from the University of Chicago Hospital that we had been chosen in a patient lottery to receive our first vaccination shot which could be scheduled online. (What Good Luck).  We had not been expecting any action on that front until February and our mailbox was full of notes from friends who were searching frantically for places to sign up for their jabs, as the Brits call them. Rumors abounded and blind alleys proliferated. We felt grateful for this unsolicited gift.

Shortly thereafter I got a note from my adult nephew in New York that he had tested positive for the virus. (What Bad Luck) He’s pretty much followed the rules. He’s done his City government job from home, maintained social distance – mostly. His one misstep was attending a joint birthday party for two friends at a restaurant. Technically, it wasn’t even a misstep because the restaurant was in compliance with the governor’s requirements for restaurants reduced to 50% capacity and serving parties of 10 or fewer. The problem was that one of the birthday celebrants had been exposed at her work but didn’t tell anyone. The result was that 8 people, including my nephew, had tested positive. He’s got symptoms, but he’ll be okay. Still, that was hitting a little too close to home.

The next day (What Good Luck) we actually got our shots at the hospital – a very welcoming and well-organized scene, made even richer by the fact that the young woman who actually jabbed us wore a hijab, a good news forerunner in this inaugural week of the announcement that among Biden’s Day One plans was the lifting of the travel ban on Muslim countries, erasing one of the symbols of hatred and division in which this past administration was born. 

But, oh, how could one enter into the first step of this life-saving process without thinking about the 400,000, so many of whom died unnecessarily. This doesn’t even fall under the What Bad Luck banner because it wasn’t luck that brought them down, but bungling and human indifference at so many different points in the pandemic. In my imaginary war crimes trial with Trump and his enablers in the docket, these deaths would stand as the first charge in the indictment.

And then (What great news!) came Inauguration Day. I concur with all my FB friends who said that they felt that a great burden had been lifted from their shoulders. Just the swearing-in of the new president and the departure of the man who almost succeeded in bringing the house down around our ears would have been sufficient, but then there were Biden’s words of healing, predictable and prosaic as they may have been, followed by the truly transcendent Amanda Gorman, she of the well-deserved red halo who once again made me wonder what wisdom I’ve acquired in the nearly 60 years I have on her. (Can I also confess that there is such thing as overexposure. Enough. It’s not great poetry. It’s Inauguration Poetry.)

I came away from the day wondering whether the ultimate irony of these coming Biden years, committed to anti-racism, will be that our new WHITE president will be able to accomplish much of what Barack aspired to but could not push through because of the huge backlash his BLACKNESS generated. That seems to be the recurring pattern: Civil War and Reconstruction, followed by Jim Crow and lynchings; the Civil Rights Movement and the emergence of a period of increasing racism; Barack’s election, followed by Trump and the resurgence of White Supremacy. Maybe, just maybe our new white president can cut across these cycles of progress and backlash. As I said, that would be the ultimate irony.

The next What Bad News items are boringly personal, filled as they were with non-life-threatening reasons to feel physically crummy, not related to the vaccine. Sharing the details would be TMI, as the young folks like to say (look it up), but What Good News, here I am feeling chipper enough to be back at the keyboard bombarding you with my unoriginal musings.

Saturday Night Live was preceded by a satirical news show called That Was the Week That Was. My stroll through these good luck and bad luck moments are a look at this week that was and a very momentous week it was, filled with vaccinations and inaugurations. There are still at least 100,000 more Covid deaths ahead and more possible threats to our democracy from the Crazies who almost brought us down just two weeks ago. Just this morning, the Arizona Republican Party censured three party members, including Cindy McClain, for insufficient loyalty to Trumpl In many ways the work ahead is more difficult without the villain we’ve been pushing back against for four years.

My father and I went for a walk in the waning weeks of WW II. I asked him whether there would be no more news broadcasts after the war was over. He assured me that there would be more than enough news to fill those broadcasts.  What Good Luck. What Bad Luck.

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Marv Hoffman

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