“The luck of the Remens.”

In case anyone is feeling disappointed about bets not made on Saturday, the following story may help. It’s from Kitchen Table Wisdom, by Rachel Naomi Remen.

Whenever anything went wrong for the family my father would shake his head and say, “The luck of the Remens.” He applied the phrase liberally and even-handedly to such things as losing a parking space as well as the larger things in life such as his bankruptcy and the chronic illness of his only daughter. The luck of the Remens was certainly not good luck. My father, who believed in nothing beyond a human agency in this world, felt life to be a random and dangerous enterprise and he felt overwhelmed by it. The luck of the Remens was invoked often. For many years I believed that we were unlucky people.

In 1971, my father won a prize in the New York State lottery. It was not a huge amount of money by lottery standards, but it was more money than my dad had ever seen in his life in one place. It was a windfall for him. It was a windfall for me, too, not because of the money but because of what happened next.

My father was in the hospital when he won the lottery, recovering from the removal of a tumor which turned out to be benign. He taped the winning ticket to his chest, saying that no one could be trusted to redeem it, not any of the family or any of his friends, not even my mother. He was convinced that someone would keep the ticket or it would be stolen from them or the people at the lottery office would not record it honestly once it was handed over. For a long time he could not be persuaded to turn the ticket in. As the deadline to redeem it got closer, he swore my mother and me to secrecy, telling us that people would try to take advantage of us in some way if they knew. Eventually he did redeem the ticket himself, but he never did spend the money because he was afraid that others would then know he had it.

Gradually, a very familiar anxiety settled around us. And then I got my windfall. I saw that the luck of the Remens was homemade. There was no way that my father could be lucky in this world. He could even turn winning fifty thousand dollars into a misfortune, a source of grief, anxiety, and stress. Until then, I had believed that we were really unlucky. Something gray that had hung over me all my life lifted. I have lived off my windfall from that lottery ticket ever since.

In case you’re wondering, the rest of the book is good, too — particularly the parts that highlight the limits of our medical knowledge and the importance of acknowledging those limits.

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Posted in Book Reviews, Failure of Imagination. Tags: , . Comments Off on “The luck of the Remens.”
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