This morning, I was busy preparing my lesson as my students started to file into my classroom. I like the five minutes before the first bell because I get to eavesdrop on their lives. They talk about friends, sporting events, other teachers and other classes, music and movies. (On a side note: I have downloaded quite a few songs because of overhearing kids talk about bands.) Today was business as usual; they were entering the room and taking their seats when I heard one boy’s ominous warning to another, “You better be careful. It is Friday the 13th.”
Friday the 13th! I had forgotten! I looked at both boys. I did not hear the misgiving that caused this foreboding forewarning, but by the sardonic look on the second boy’s face, I doubted he was going to heed the warning.
Personally, I understand superstition; I grew up in a superstitious household. My mother, a college educated God-fearing Catholic, believed in every superstition under the sun. She was so afraid of bad luck, that she collected elephants– but only with the trunk up. Someone at some point gave her an elephant knickknack with the trunk up, and when she was told that it was part of Eastern culture, she bought it. She did no investigating to find out this was really a misrepresentation of the culture. It offered good luck like the horseshoe over the front door and that was good enough for her.
She loved it! And unlike the horseshoe, they were cute and decorative. She thought, Why stop at one ornament of good luck? Why not tip the odds in my own favor? Hence, over the years, she stockpiled elephants. They were everywhere in our house and in all forms: knickknacks, statues, book ends, trinkets, and paintings. We had an elephant that stood so large in our living room, when I was six, I would pretend I lived in Africa and ride it while I herded my imaginary gazelles.
Of course, she believed in all the usual superstitions. She was reticent about leaving the house or breaking her routine on Friday the 13th so that she would not have to experience any misfortune. She hated black cats. She cried when she broke a mirror– seven years is a long time, you know. She would not let us bring umbrellas indoors, and we were not allowed to come near a table with shoes, even new shoes still in the box.
Her fascination with luck and superstition was not contained to Eastern religion and black magic, she believed in Catholic superstition as well. She believed that there was one particular day of the year (which for the life of me I cannot remember) that if she said 1000 Hail Mary’s and made a wish, her wish would come true. She would wake early on this Feast and concentrate all day to accomplish this goal.
She believed that the number 13 and its bad luck actually derived from Jesus. Jesus ate his last supper with twelve men. She believed that if thirteen people purposefully sat down for a meal, it was a menacing omen that someone would die. Was she intimating that if one of the apostles, like Paul or Peter, had eaten some bad fish the night before and missed the meal because he was struck with food poisoning, the whole “Jesus died on the cross” thing could have been avoided? Of course not.
As the years passed, she pulled wish bones, she ate fortune cookies, she threw pennies into fountains. Anything that she perceived could give her an edge in life, she was willing to give it a try. It wasn’t just about fun and fascination for her, it was about hoping for another outcome in her own life.
I realized by watching her that we make our own luck. The elephants did not keep her from becoming an alcoholic, and the broken mirrors didn’t bring any misfortune into her life that she did not bring upon herself. She staked so much stock into believing in good and bad luck that I think she forgot to believe in herself and the power she had over her own destiny.
Thus, on this very auspicious Friday the 13th, I have to admit, I do not believe in superstition. I believe in God, I believe in Karma, I believe in probability, and I believe in me.