In 1952, along with the rest of my Air National Guard outfit, I waited at Camp Kilmer in New Jersey to board a troop ship for Iceland. A male vocalist on a live radio program sang a song that made me think. It was called “Lucky, Lucky, Lucky Me.” The words really stuck in my head.
Here’s how he sang it that day:
Lucky, lucky, lucky me!
I’m a lucky son of a gun.
I work eight hours, I sleep eight hours,
I have eight hours of fun.
Does that work for me? I guess so. It’s been stuck in my head for 61 years. In fact, even today if you creep up on me quietly you may hear me doing what Mom did all day long as she toiled away at her housework — singing. Singing what? Four times out of five it’ll be, “Lucky, Lucky, Lucky Me!”
You know why?
That’s how I feel about life. I feel I have been blessed with so much good luck these 81 years that there should have been an apostle named Saint Lucky and Mom should have named me after him instead of Saint Thomas, the doubter.
No kidding. I could start now and type for many weeks and I wouldn’t even come close to telling you the number of times I stumbled into something great. These days everyone seems to have a plan for life, some career they have in mind, some great goal. Not me. Sure, I liked chemistry in high school and thought I’d like to study it in college, but it never for one minute occurred to me that when I walked out the college door with a sheepskin in my hand I was going to have to work in some boring old lab.
I loved teaching chemistry for eight years, but working as a chemist just might be the most boring job in the world. “Take two grams of A. Mix it with six grams of B. Add six milliliters of C. Shake for four minutes for and pour into vessel D. Next ....”
It was fun to learn how all that stuff worked, and to teach it to — let’s see — about 1,300 teenagers. So was planning out the 120 labs I used to teach it. But the best part was making the equipment to do those labs: Using a gas-fired crossfire to make all the glassware. Putting it all together. Trying it out. Watching it work ... but mix up stuff in some boring old lab? Not for me.
Anyway, as you probably already know, I didn’t go to college and study chemistry. Instead, I went to Massachusetts, then to Iceland, and then back to Massachusetts. Then home to New London and from there to upstate New York, Texas and Japan. And finally to Pakistan, where I met my beloved. That’s exactly halfway around the world from where I started. What incredibly good luck! The slightest change in anything I did over a period of nine long years would have put me elsewhere and given me an entirely different life.
And I take no credit for it.
All my life all I have done is play the cards I was dealt, but it’s almost as though someone up there has been stacking the deck for me. When I was leaving the Air Force, Lolly and I looked up five colleges around the country and thought we liked the one in Oregon. That one didn’t reply, so we ended up in one of the most beautiful small towns in the nation instead, where I was recruited to teach in the wealthiest school district in Texas for three times what I would have made in Oregon, which eventually led to my being here.
Look at what happened when I first re-enlisted in the Air Force. I had an iron-clad promise I would go to Andrews Air Force Base. I went to the main recruiting station in New Haven to get my orders. They gave me a test and offered me a commission instead of one lousy stripe. Like a dummy I turned it down. Angry with me, they assigned me to take some recruits to upstate New York. There I applied for a school without even knowing what the school was and ended up doing what I most love doing — teaching!
It has been like that for 81 years. I do something dumb, I turn around, and I get rewarded for it.
I’ll tell you what, Johnny, it won’t surprise me in the least if someone nudges me as I am closing my eyes for the last time and says, “Gee, Tom, sorry. You’ll have to get up. We just found a cure for that.”
And if not ....
I’ll bet no one hears a word of complaint out of me.