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The sidewalk bought me breakfast the other day.

As I walked to a nearby coffeeshop, I found a $5 bill on the ground. Enough for a cup of coffee and a day-old pastry. But good luck tends to make me uneasy. When the universe starts giving you free money, it’s only reasonable to ask what it’s going to want in return.

It’s a good idea to avoid people who think good fortune is a reward rather than a loan. After all, think of the person who lost the five bucks. Their day may have just gotten worse. And if you pick up the money, you’re part of their story now, a benefactor of their misfortune. Still feeling lucky?

And here’s the real bind: if you decide you don’t want to take on that kind of karmic responsibility and you leave the money there, you may end up in worse shape afterwards. Think of Perceval, who didn’t ask the question, or the schlemiel in Brigadoon. (Unfair you say? Sure. If the universe were fair, there’d be no such thing as luck.) In other words, you can’t win, even when you’re winning.

So just take the damn money – but don’t complain to me if the universe asks for it back later, with interest.

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