Lady luck smiled.

Three months ago I took out a second mortgage on my house and put the money in one of those Internet stock funds. It's up 44 percent.

When financial idiots like me start doing things like this you know the bursting of the bubble can't be far behind but, that aside, I've been pondering the matter of luck recently.

It came up the other day when an editor handed along an Associated Press report about a guy named Bill Goss down in Florida who has survived 30 near-death experiences. Deciding he's a better person as a result, Goss has penned a book called "The Luckiest Unlucky Man Alive" and become a motivational speaker.

"I lucked out," he told AP writer Ron Word. "I learned from those dark days that behind every challenge are great opportunities." The challenges had included plane crashes, cancer, a mine cave-in. The opportunities include gratitude at being alive plus, no doubt, the ability to charge big speaker fees.

Goss joins a robust American tradition. "Nothing is either good or bad," Ben Franklin said. "It's thinking that makes it so." I decided to kick this luck question around with some old buddies. Common-sense guys.

"My perception of luck depends on my level of maturity at any given moment," government engineer Al Dinsenbacher, 61, told me. " 'Bad luck' may mean I'm not getting what I want, and they are. Or, I can be grateful for my existing circumstances and say, 'I'm lucky!' Being presented with sometimes painful opportunities for personal growth can be a matter of good luck if I recognize and capitalize on them."

A little maturity may come in handy, all right, when those Internet stocks crash and burn.

"Luck? Wow!" said psychotherapist Stuart Maynard, 44. "I was just thinking I don't have any. We just got back from Lake Tahoe last night, and we spent a little time in Reno. My father-in-law won $2,500. I lost $20.

"It's so funny you should bring this up! I just opened a package, one of those promotions that say you might have won something. I almost threw it out without looking because I thought, 'I don't have luck like that.' I've had to make my own luck through hard work and perseverance."

Since Stuart had persevered and opened the package, I asked if he'd won. "Nope!" he laughed. Then he added:

"I may not have luck, but I have grace. I don't know if there's a difference, but some things that have happened to me have been extraordinary. Like the way I met my wife, Laurie, on a blind date. She's a terrific person, and it took me years to figure out how lucky I was.

"And in my career I've met some really fine people who either mentored me or influenced me in a positive way. I guess there's a kind of balance between effort and surrender, just letting some of the good things come into our lives.

"I was thinking about having bad luck, but you cheered me up."

Talking with Stuart always makes me feel better, too.

"I'm starting chemotherapy tomorrow, what can I say?" said my friend Joe Burstein, 85, a musician and retired government attorney. "But the X-rays have shown no change in the tumor, so that's good. I think everything is happenstance, really. I've had a long life, an interesting one and I'm truly thankful for that."

I asked Joe what was his luckiest experience.

"The fact that I couldn't continue playing in the Boston Symphony when I was a young man," he replied. "It changed my whole life and led to the accomplishment of many worthy things. I didn't think of it as lucky at the time, though.

"It broke my heart."

My pal Quinn Harry, 49, a professional computer jock, told me the luckiest thing in his life had been "getting out of Vietnam alive." He recounted this fable:

One day, a great white stallion appeared at the farm of an old man and his son. The villagers said, "What good fortune!" for now the farmer had a horse to plow his fields.

But the old man said, "I don't know if it's good fortune or not. All I know is that now I have a plow animal where before I had none."

Then the horse ran away. The villager considered this bad fortune, but again the farmer was philosophical. "I don't know if it's a bad thing or a good thing," he said. "All I know is that before I had a horse, and now I have none."

Then the horse returned, bringing six more with him--good luck. The farmer's son fell off the horse and broke his legs--bad. Then the King's soldiers came to take all the young men away to war.

The farmer's son couldn't go because his legs were broken.

Vincent Vallely, 83, a retired foreign service officer, told me he's been "lucky in things other than material. I had three healthy children and three healthy grandchildren. I've been lucky in finding friends, too. I have friends I've known since college days."

Vince graduated from Columbia in 1940, and while there he'd known a guy who was a close pal of Thomas Merton's. At breakfast, the guy would talk about a monkey he or Merton kept up in the room. They'd bring it food, and sometimes the monkey went out on the roof for sun.

"It wasn't until years later," Vince said with a chuckle, "when I read Merton's 'The Seven Storey Mountain,' that I realized my friend was talking about a famous monk from India they'd had in the room. They were discussing spiritual things."

Like the lucky gift of humor, no doubt.

As it happens, that Hindu scholar, Mahanambrata Brahmachari, died Oct. 18 in Calcutta at the age of 95. He had, according to the New York Times obit, urged Merton--who himself went on to become a famous writer and Trappist monk--to read the "Confessions" of St. Augustine.

"Now that I look back on those days," Merton wrote, "it seems to me very probable that one of the reasons why God had brought him all the way from India, was that he might say just that."

A clear case of luck run amonk.