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Observations of a Fifty Something Housewife
Superstitions and Wacky Things That Go Bump
in The Night
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST MORA HECHT
Watching Rafael Nadal during his matches at the U.S. Open tennis tournament last month I was struck by his somewhat compulsive routine of arranging his water bottles in a row. The sportscaster’s commented often on his proclivity for repetitious behavior. Is this superstition or is he methodically tidy?
I must admit to more than my fair share of superstitions. When I board a plane I place my right hand on the outside of the door as I enter. I have no idea how long I’ve been doing this, or how it started, but it’s a ritual I am compelled to follow; the entire safety of the plane rests squarely on my shoulders. I know it’s a burden I alone must bear.
So, the question I ask myself is, “Are these learned responses to things outside of our control, or do we all have the propensity to be a little wacky?”
On the morning of the first day of a new month I declare aloud, before any other words are uttered, “rabbit, rabbit” for good luck. I began this practice while in high school. One of my choir friends shared this family custom of hers and I was deliriously happy to learn of its power, and indeed wondered why everyone didn’t take full advantage of it. During my awkward teenage years I needed all the help I could get.
I have learned that this is a common British superstition with quite a number of variations. “Rabbit, rabbit, white rabbit,” or “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.” This totally freaks me out since I’m never sure which one will do the trick. I could cover my bases by repeating them all, but then there’s the potential they could possibly cancel each other out.
There’s the “Eyelash Wish.” Find a loose lash on your face, place it ever so carefully on your finger, close your eyes, make a wish and blow. Don’t tell me everyone doesn’t do this? How about “Find a penny and pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck?” Over the years the germaphobe side of me has most likely passed up hundreds of dollars worth of copper pennies. Life was easier when I was ignorantly unaware of bugs and bacteria.
After learning, never “step on a crack…break your mother’s back,” I didn’t, for years. The power of suggestion always looms large in my subconscious. Of course the rational side of me knows that these ideas are ludicrous, but I continue to adhere to these capricious whims. Who am I to tempt the fates?
Magic Mantras and Prayer
My husband, the bravest and most sane person I know, used to practice a ritual of sorts when he flew, a magic mantra: our cats names spoken like one word, no spaces. “PolkieCattieChelseaTiBooBoo,” repeated over and over until he went into a coma. This ended slowly, over time as he became more confident, the repetition, a successful coping mechanism helping him overcome his fear of takeoff.
Barbara Walters admits to a similar ritual. “Although I myself don’t go to church or synagogue, I do, whether it’s superstition or whatever, pray every time I get on a plane. I just automatically do it. I say the same thing every time.”
I suppose some superstitions can be traced to lineage. My son-in-law’s family has a ritual called the “sit.” On one of his visits I walked into the garage to find him sitting crossed legged on the ground. “After everything is in the car you have to go back inside the house and sit purposefully before leaving on a trip,” explained his mother after I inquired. This was passed down from her father-in-law’s side of the family, perhaps an Eastern European tradition. Our son-in-law had forgotten this formality and due to time constraints made the concession to sit outside the car before we left for the airport!
My mother exhibited more than a few deep seated beliefs. Once I was demonstrating on my face where a classmate had seriously injured herself when my mother immediately pushed my hand away, wiping my cheeks, and clearly trying to banish all evidence. She told me to never do that again, and walked off without explanation.
She was also a firm believer in dreams. My father once pulled me aside when I was in seventh or eighth grade to warn me that my mother had a dream too dreadful to repeat herself, but that I should stay away from bushes.
Again, I had little information to go on, but this explains my unnatural fear of shrubbery.
Most of us are perfectly happy with our rituals and superstitions. Folly or not, it is hard in this sometimes crazy, mixed up world to bravely face those unexplainable “things that go bump in the night.” A little harmless insurance is sometimes the dose of confidence we need to get us through the day.
Read Mora all month long, blogging with her pearls on, at Is Anybody Else Hot?
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.