While I was bemoaning several financial expenses to a friend earlier today, he responded, “Look on the bright side. You’re mostly through your life anyway.” Thanks, bud. While intended – I think – as a joke, the remark is strictly speaking true. Even if I were less than halfway to the national average life expectancy, though, the point that expenses and life itself are temporary still would be accurate. Yet, it takes a particular brand of optimist to consider mortality to be a piece of good luck. I suppose such a brand nonetheless exists. The distinction of good luck from bad, as so much else, comes down to personal perspective. The people who claim their lives were ruined by winning the lottery come to mind. Consider also these events.
The RMS Titanic had two sister ships, the Olympic and the Britannic. All three ships encountered trouble on the seas. On September 11, 1911, the Olympic collided with the cruiser HMS Hawke. Despite flooding two compartments, the Olympic made it back to port. We all know the fate of the Titanic in 1912. In World War One the Britannic was pressed into service as a hospital ship; on November 21, 1916, an explosion tore open the hull of the Britannic off the coast of Greece. The ship sank. The cause officially remains undetermined but most likely the ship struck a mine. The Olympic, Titanic, and Britannic had a crewmember in common: ship’s nurse Violet Jessop was aboard each ship on each occasion and survived all three incidents.
Violet’s feat was outdone by Midshipman ‘Kit’ Wykeham-Musgrave who emerged unscathed from three combat sinkings in a single hour, a record that still holds. On September 22, 1914, he was aboard the cruiser HMS Aboukir which was on patrol with HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy. The Aboukir was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U9. Kit jumped into the sea and swam to HMS Hogue which was torpedoed as soon as he climbed aboard. The Hogue sank in three minutes. Kit once more swam away. He was picked up by the Cressy which in turn was torpedoed and sank. Kit was picked up three hours later by a Dutch trawler. From the three sinkings there were 837 survivors out of combined crews totaling 2296.
On August 6, 1945, Tsutomo Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on a business trip. He was 2km from ground zero when the atomic bomb exploded. Though burned, he returned home the next day for treatment and for his job. Home was Nagasaki. While discussing the events in Hiroshima with his supervisor at work the second atomic bomb exploded. Yamaguchi was 2km from ground zero. Yamaguchi again survived, this time without serious injury. He died in 2013 at the age of 93.
Are these individuals extraordinarily lucky for surviving or extraordinarily unlucky for having been in the situations at all? Either view is defensible. I don’t know how Violet and Tsutomo felt about their disasters, but Kit was pretty sanguine about his. He began his letter to his grandmother three days afterward thus: “I had the most thrilling experience.” Kit was an optimist at heart. (I tend to live as an optimist while wearing the clothes of a pessimist.) Whether appropriately or wildly inappropriately, my favorite quote on the distinction is from J. Robert Oppenheimer: “The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true."
Mr. Lucky -- John Lee Hooker