SARAH ORNE JEWETT, SOUTH BERWICK. ME.
The older one grows the more one sees the folly of attributing people's good fortune to that vague and indescribable imaginary power in the world which we are pleased to call good luck. There are dozens of proverbs akin to that about being born with a silver spoon in one's mouth; we often hear that it is better to be born lucky than rich. The word seems to have many different meanings, but after watching people who are supposed to be the favorites of fortune, one comes to the conclusion that there is nothing we have to work so hard for as this very good luck. To every man his own life seems the best, else he would be ready to change places with others, which no man ever has been. God gives to each of us blessings that are entirely our own. Still we can each call to mind many a friend who has been in many ways more fortunate than ourselves, and whose lot in life is more enviable. But some time or other the man has had to do with the cause, which brings about the effect; it may have been that he was polite and kind, and some one waited to do him a favor in return; that he was wise and generous and provident; it may be that he was always a careful, intelligent student of books and of his business, and fitted himself for the place that was given him later; it must be always that he did not yield to the temptation to be lazy, which would have hindered his gaining the knowledge or the treasure which would make him richer for all time. The real good fortunes of life are more apt to be deserved than we imagine - the real successes have been the reward of character and an inevitable harvest from the seed that was some day sown. People are not willing to work for what they want - that is the trouble! They feel defrauded if the best gifts of this world are not theirs, and do not fall into their lives out of clear sky, when they never have taken the trouble to win or earn them. They do not see why many friends and much money have not fallen to their lot when they really never have worked for them. They seem to think that they should have a certain credit, and a right to riches of any kind, because they have wished for them; and if another man stands in the place they would like to occupy, they think it injustice and oversight, and find it hard to reconcile themselves.
People fail of success in life, says Dr. Johnson, because of the weakness of the means they use to gain it - and there never were truer words spoken. If you hear a man bewail his lack of time for reading and parade his fondness for it, you may be pretty sure it is affected, for some of the greatest scholars in the world have fairly stolen the minutes for their study, and people are sure to find time for the things they really like best. With all of us the will is oftener found wanting than the way. If a young person tells me that he has a great ambition to follow some path in life which will lead him high in the world, the first thing I should ask him would be whether he was really willing to work and try to make him understand what I meant by that. We are tired of hearing it said that genius is only great patience; we all try to find the royal road to learning, and when we make sure that no guide-post points that way most of us turn back, not being willing to go with painful steps over the rough mountain path which is the only king's highway to wisdom. We forget what outlooks there will be, or what treasures lie hidden in the rocks. If it had been a smooth, straight turnpike, and a short one at that, we would have followed it. More of us would be rich and great if it were easier work to become so.
We look at the results of our neighbor's toil and envy him his good luck, often without a thought of the long, hard years which had to be lived through before he came to the place where he could do a good thing easily, and get great pay for it. We notice these effects; we do not think of the causes; we talk about them as if all the work that belongs to them had been done in the day they were finished.
Some people have quicker wits than others, and seize and hold the opportunities of life with sure and steady hands, while others, more from indolence than lack of capacity, let the chances for bettering themselves go by untouched. I believe that God gives us more power than we ever use, and puts tools enough in our way; to every man He gives the chance of growth and improvement; but we willfully stand idle, and fret because our lives do not suit us. There is a great difference in the constitutions of our characters - some men's are weak, and others' are strong. But it is no use to call one event of life good luck and another bad luck. God sends us the events of every day, and it is we ourselves who make them bad or good, according to the way we take them.
A sum of money may be shared by two people, and one may be ruined by it and the other lifted and helped in every way by its honorable use - one might happily multiply illustrations of this kind forever! A sorrow is sent to a household, and one woman is made hard and bitter and unkind, while another's face shines like an angel's already with the light of Heaven that has broken through the same sorrow's cloud. To each of us in his lot and place in life God gives all of Himself that we will take; and to each of us He gives this world's good fortune for which all work and toil - if we work and toil intelligently and reasonably. There are fewer gifts and graces of existence impossible to us than we think. And if we are called away from this world to the next, while our plans and purposes are yet unfulfilled, I am ready to believe that for ourselves in the future there will be satisfaction; and, if our chosen work was worth doing, the people we leave behind are also the better for it.
To be rich is possible, to be wise is possible, to be good - of that we are certain; it is the only thing in life for which we may try without any fear of failure. The work must be done and the steps taken patiently in that quest; it is more short-sighted to envy a person his goodness, and his good luck in being a charming and helpful companion, than to form such a judgment of any other success of his life. Some human beings are willing to take pains to be and do their best; the unsatisfied and disappointed souls are those who are unwilling and who excuse themselves for their laziness and lack of purpose, even for their undeveloped spiritual gifts, by saying that they have had bad luck. A wise preacher has said that prayer is not a conquering of God's unwillingness, and if we stop to think we shall be sure that worldly success, also, oftenest comes by right, not favor. It is by learning the laws of both the higher and lower lives, and patiently keeping and following them, working with them and not against them, that we shall avoid failure and misfortune, and cease to depend upon the stray and unexpected blessings which men imagine to be like the wild birds in the air which may fly to us of their own accord.
One man may find a diamond in the dust at his feet when he was not looking for it, but many men must have seen it too and passed it by before he had the wit to notice it and interest enough to pick it up. All the old superstitions about finding four-leaved clovers, and "lucky" things of that sort, simply mean that a man who is persistent and patient in his search for one uncommon and elusive thing is apt to have a quickness of sight and a power of application which will serve him in good stead in better pursuits.
In some persons' lives misery and disappointment succeed each other; but I believe that God never repeats his lessons after they are once learned by us, and nothing can be what we call bad luck for us unless we make it so ourselves. It takes both storm and sunshine to make us grow in grace, and who can say that either is a mistake. The events of our lives which are not of our planning or provision are still somewhat under our control, since in any school we are set those lessons for which we have fitted ourselves. God's ordering of circumstances is related to our need and capacity. It is these so-called accidents of life which we find hardest to manage and to understand; but they none the less belong to us and grow out of our conscious choice and management. It is God working with us and not against us.
We envy the "lucky" man whose plans prosper, and whom the events of life seem to favor and not to baffle; but it is well to notice whether he has not worked hard to bring his luck to his hands, and whether in the midst of his riches and power he is really rich and strong. I believe that the lives we envy most for their prosperity, often hide from the world's sight a weight of care and a burden of hard work that would make an increasing cause of complaint to a man who had not learned to be self-reliant and cheerful. God helps those who help themselves: it would be well if we remembered that saying a great deal oftener than we do. It is the keeping of the laws of God, both in spiritual and material things, that makes us successful, respectable, and honorable citizens of God's kingdom in this world and the next.
"Lucky People" appeared in The Congregationalist 34:18, Wednesday, May 3, 1882, p. 149, the opening page of this issue. This text is made available courtesy of the Newberry Library.
[ Back ]
People fail of success in life, says Dr. Johnson ...: Samuel Johnson 1709-1784. This quotation has not been located. If you have useful information, please contact the site manager.
[ Back ]
Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.