Things happen. Good things happen, like rainbows and snowflakes. Not so good things happen, like tsunamis and cancers. And I am but a tiny blip in history — to quote Neil Simon, from his play, God’s Favorite, “I am an infinitesimal speck on the eyelash of the Universe, but God sees me.” Actually, I don’t know about God, but those who know and love me see me, and that’s good enough for me.
The point I am trying to make is this — I have no control over most things. In fact, I barely and rarely have control over myself. I do not make it rain and hail any more than I make it sunny. Yet as a puny human, I feel obliged to keep trying to do certain things, as if anything I do has an effect on the world around me. I am not talking about things like loading the dishwasher or eating a sandwich. I am talking about doing random, illogical things in order to influence what I cannot see or influence — doing things like spitting three times over my left shoulder “ptoo ptoo ptoo” when crossing the street that a black cat just crossed (actually, any color cat, I do not discriminate). Or spitting three times over my left shoulder when talking about how beautiful someone’s child is — no one wants to curse that child, but sometimes that’s how curses work — tempting the universe. To ward off evil eye that others wish upon me, I do as my mother taught me, and wear either a metal clothes pin or carry a tiny bag of salt. If I leave the house, but have forgotten something and find myself crossing the threshold to return, I look in the mirror to rid myself of any bad juju. If you husband or children go right back in the house after leaving home, I helpfully yell at them to do the same, “LOOK IN THE MIRROR!”
Do I actually believe that putting my purse on the floor will make my money leave me? No. I don’t really believe in any of the juju rituals I do. I do it mostly out of habit. I do it because my mother made me do it when I was a child, and I carried on that “tradition.”
I think that when the Communists took over Russia and religion was forbidden, people still had to try to assert control over their chaotic, violent and unpredictable surroundings. As humans, we always have that itch in our minds that nothing can scratch — we see ghosts out of the corners of our eyes, fear lightning and thunder, and we can’t explain away or fully understand madness or genius. So, we do what we can, we wave and shout and bang on drums to make the solar eclipse go away — like the Vikings used to do. And we try our best not to break mirrors nor walk under ladders.
There is, however, one thing that I do that now my husband (the least superstitious person I know) and both of my kids also do, as drivers. When we go through a yellow light, we kiss our finger tips and touch them to the roof of the car above us. Years ago, I started doing this because a friend used to do it, and it was a matter of being grateful and showing it — “I made it through this light!” I adopted this general thank you to the traffic gods of the universe, and eventually, my husband adopted it, too. This habit is exactly that, a habit, and any habit that shows gratitude is all right in my book.
I know, intellectually, that superstitions are bunkum. Habits, on the other hand, are habits for a reason — they are awfully tough to break. What I learned to do, throughout the years, is to regard them with bemused attachment. This is what I do because I was shown to do it that way or because my mom asked me to do it — “Don’t put your purse on the floor, its bad luck.” Besides, who wants to put a perfectly clean purse on a nasty floor of a restaurant, for example? Gross! Not me.
Wishing you the best of luck with your superstitions and habits.
Ptoo ptoo ptoo.