Dealt a Bad Hand

Dear reader, you may share with me the privilege of having witnessed the estimable conduct of a hero commanded by the adversities of life. Regrettably there are among us those who have been dealt a bad hand, whether the hardship pertains to life or death, health or sickness, marriage or dissolution, business adventure or misadventure, wealth or bankruptcy.

The purport of these troopers is of mixed report. Harsh personal struggles are all too regular. Knowing that makes one wonder when the random nature of life will in time visit the same tribulation upon one’s own head. Even if we are philosophic to adjudge that the ultimate closure awaits us all we persevere in skillfully ignoring the immediate possibility preferring instead to see life as an open road. Paradoxically there is much virtue that emanates from those who brawl with their tough state of affairs. The grace of the sufferer is routinely exponentially higher than the depth of their gloom to the point where the chance observer wonders not about his own eventual loss but his ability to compete with such distinction and worthiness were he to suffer the same dreadful fate. Maintaining a watchful eye upon the progression of others who writhe under duress is a ready reminder of the triviality of our present complaints and of the stalwartness of others less lucky.

Apart from temporary set-backs which surely must affect us all on occasion, the bad luck (and make no mistake, it is only luck) which attends some people is often of a prolonged and determinative effect. For those luckless few, every minute of the day from beginning to end can be an inexorable challenge. If they are not driven mad or worse by their troubles, they remarkably learn to accommodate the affliction. One recalls Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”, that epic evocation of the British virtues of the “stiff upper lip” and stoicism in the face of adversity:

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same

How succinctly this captures the nub of the matter! How deftly it accentuates the rank of our disposition not our position. How insightfully it pierces the machinations of humanity. It directs us from the dead-end preoccupation with winning and losing and cautions us not to be distracted by the two pretenders. We are inspired to aim for a greater dignity.

What is missing from the uninformed glimpse of the distress of others is the recognition of its brutality. Life is blunt for some. When once one has confronted the ruthlessness of one’s predicament there yet awaits the acceptance of it. This instills its own further rage, the recognition that things will not change – a hard conclusion. But one thing life is not is a game. There is no alternative of throwing down one’s hand and awaiting another luckier draw. Neither can you bluff your way into a royal flush. Yet, as Kipling intimates, the value we assign to the cards we’ve been dealt depends very much on us not any inherent worth.

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