Friday, February 8, 2013

Another kind of streak

For the last third of 2012, it seemed that a streak of misfortune permeated the air like a vapor cloud.

I use the simile of a cloud because the misfortunes weren’t really mine: they were close to me, but not exactly touching me. There were three deaths in three months. None of them was a family member or close friend, but all were upsetting. One was a woman who became a friend during the five years we were next door neighbors. One was the husband of a friend I’ve known ever since our daughters were first in playgroup together at the age of three; since then we’ve periodically caught up at school events and kids’ birthday parties. And the third was a high school friend who had moved far away but whom I saw almost every summer over the past decade when she was home for an annual visit.

And then after three funeral services in three months came the Connecticut school shootings. A tragedy a month seemed to be the rule last fall.

Eventually, I told myself, this unhappy streak will end. Not to say more bad things won’t happen – I’m afraid I have to acknowledge that statistically, losses will become less and less of an anomaly as my peers and I plow onward through middle age – but not with this kind of monthly regularity. This is just bad luck. This is just unhappy coincidence.

Even as I said it, though, I knew there was one problem with my thinking: it’s easier to notice the improbability of a stretch marked by losses than a stretch marked by no losses. It’s not like there had been other four-month periods in my life when I’d looked around and said “Yay, no awful news lately.”

In part, that’s because it always seems a little solipsistic to claim nothing bad has happened. Something bad is always happening somewhere. The Sandy Hook shootings felt like part of my streak of unhappy news, but didn’t I owe the same respect to the victims of the Algerian gas plant attack? It seems there’s always someone I know undergoing cancer treatment. And, of course, disease and famine never take a break. There’s never a time when it really feels appropriate to look around and say “Hey, everything is great right now!’ It may be true for me, but that means only that I’m casting a very narrow gaze.

Still, I told myself that when a month passed without a significant loss, I would remember to observe it. And so as February begins, that’s what I’m doing. For all of January, nothing terrible happened, no awful news arrived by text or email or word of mouth or newscast. Bad things were happening somewhere, to be sure, but for me the month was marked by serenity.

Whether this is something to feel gratitude for or merely a sign of obtuseness is hard to say. Things are never perfect; if all seemed well last month, maybe I just wasn’t paying attention or caring enough. But whatever the reason, January was a good month without bad news. And since during the previous months I promised I wouldn’t let it go unremarked when that happened, I’m observing and celebrating it and expressing gratitude. Right now, in this new month of February. Which, so far, has also been pretty good. 

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