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NONFICTION On September 11, 26-year-old Hilda Yolanda Mayol, an

employee at a restaurant on the ground floor of the World Trade Center, escaped before the building collapsed. Two months later, American Airlines Flight 587 crashed into a neighborhood in Queens, killing all 260 passengers, including Hilda Yolanda Mayol, who was on her way to the Dominican Republic for a vacation. As dissatisfying as the explanation might be, I prefer to think that Hilda was a victim of a series of accidents, an unfortunate recipient of a big dose of bad luck, rather than thinking that she earned this outcome. However, Hilda’s luck doesn’t appear random—it seems geared toward a specific outcome. If luck has an agenda, I’m even more wary of its role in shaping our lives.

Before I moved to New York, I travelled to Morocco.

Within a single city such as Fez or Marrakesh, there’s an old city and a new city. The new city has McDonald’s, alcohol, and women in short skirts, whereas the old city, the Medina, has no electricity or running water. The clay walls of the alleyways are covered with sticks that distill sunlight into the grey of in- betweens, the color of the donkeys that walk by. Kids work at the tannery, pressing skins with their bare feet while they rub their swollen bellies. School is a room carved out of large rock where students sit on the ground and strain to read stone tablets.

I’ve never felt so lucky and humbled simply to have

been born to my parents in Michigan, to be who I am. These kids weren’t so lucky. Neither were the Berbers on the trains who, afraid of falling asleep, handcuffed baskets of marketplace goods to their wrists to prevent anyone from stealing them. Had they done something in a previous life to warrant their circumstances or was it luck? I wonder how much luck I’ve used up just being me. I wonder how it is decided who gets to be born in Kalamazoo, Michigan and who will be born in the Medina where the donkeys and the people drink from the same trough.

Perhaps it’s reductive, but I can’t shake the notion that

someone’s behind the curtain. Luck, even if random, is a force with energy and movement. It has to come from somewhere— every force has a genesis. Is luck born like a thunderclap when certain conditions exist? What or who is luck? Karma raises the same question—if karma is a reaction, who or what is reacting? Who or what determines the poetic justice that will extend over multiple lifetimes? Karma is a system, which suggests that it needs to be managed. Luck seems to be a system too, though I can’t discern what governs it. If luck operates on a scale or system, why can’t the outcomes be programmed or predicted?

If nothing else, luck is thick with idiosyncrasies; luck sticks its finger in the pot, stirs things up, and evades understanding. Chewing over luck’s innerworkings is like running in a hamster wheel. Even if we can’t make sense of luck, we can make sense of the choices we make in its wake, which brings me back to Mark’s comment and our power to change things.

34 The idea that I can release energy into the world that will

somehow come back to me seems naive, even hokey. Sometimes I think life is too complicated for an idea like that. Other times, I think it’s so simple and obvious that it must be true; perhaps impossibility is more perception than physics. Of course a person’s outlook can change things, but can it actually make luck? It’s egocentric to believe that the ripples spreading from my choices can actually change the world. Except, isn’t that what we’re supposed to believe? The power of one person—each of us—to change the world?

Perhaps it’s reductive, but I can’t shake the notion that someone’s behind the curtain. Luck, even if random, is a force with energy and movement. It has to come from somewhere— every force has a genesis. Is luck born like a thunderclap when certain conditions exist?

We have the power to transform our surroundings,

whether it’s by leveling a rainforest, building a house, or planting flowers. Given my transience, I wasn’t sure how to use this power beyond packing and unpacking. Then I met Liz. Her apartment wasn’t any bigger or nicer than anyone else’s, but when I walked inside I felt comfortable, lighter, like I was breathing different air. She introduced me to feng shui, an ancient Chinese system of environmental arrangement by which the intentional placement of objects produces energy that changes one’s life. Initially, I was skeptical. Feng shui seemed like reason to go overboard with Oriental furnishings—Liz had dragons, coins, bamboo, water foundations, and crepe lanterns. Still, it wasn’t what she had—it was how everything was arranged. Harmonious placement, or the successful practice of feng shui, makes spaces feel, not just look, good.

Feng shui is an easy and risk-free way to try and change

one’s life, and it’s fun to move furniture around like an interactive puzzle until the pieces click. The guidelines of feng shui involve being clear in your intentions when placing objects. It makes sense that where we put our stuff affects the energy of a space—if we’re haphazard about the objects that surround us, we surrender control of our environment. September 11 proved how little environmental control we sometimes have, but when it comes to our personal space, we don’t have to surrender that control. “You wouldn’t let someone else dress you every day, would you?” Liz asked.

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