Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Jinx

Several years ago, I went on a work trip to Korea with my boss. The flight was 18 hours and about 17 hours in, my boss turned to me and exclaimed, “This has been a great flight! We haven’t had any turbulence!” No sooner were the words out of his mouth than I was responding, “Are you crazy??!! How can you say such a thing? Don’t you know about The Jinx?” Clearly, he had not grown up with a subtle but ever-present superstition coloring his every thought and deed. But, since I did grow up that way—even though I wouldn’t have characterized it as such for most of my life—I was very sensitive to the matter in which he had just doomed our flight with his remarks.  (For the record, the flight landed successfully.)

If his whole life had been spent knocking on wood and mumbling the Yiddish kinna hurra to keep the evil eye at bay, then the words never would have left his mouth and the mere thought would be squelched as instantly as it appeared. This, I know, from experience. I have lived my whole life this way, separated by a generation from the most superstitious of them all—my grandma Theresa. She had our entire family believing that green was an unlucky color. It wasn’t until I discovered the origin of this superstition, sometime after college, that I could embrace the color green in all of its blue-yellowness (or yellow-blueness, depending). How had she come to determine that the color was unlucky? When she was a little girl she had a pretty green dress and she got sick all over that dress. From there on, the color green was to blame. In other family superstition news, my mother told me to never ever put shoes on a table—it’s bad luck—and, so I never have.  And, I never will.

One day, at the end of a workweek, as my coworkers and I were all saying our farewells, I told one of them to “break a leg” with whatever it was she was doing that weekend. Imagine my surprise when she hobbled in the door on Monday on crutches. “I didn’t mean to actually break your leg,” I joked.  The theater tradition of telling someone “break a leg” instead of wishing them good luck is certainly a variation on warding off the evil eye by saying the opposite of what you mean. I even think this way.  For several weeks after her leg injury, I was dubbed “Teen Witch” after some character in a movie, or was it an after school special? I don’t know because I was too old to get the reference, though I was flattered to be referred to as a teen.  More recently, I used this awful power with a thought—harmless as it was—that, “wow, that light bulb in our porch light has never needed to be changed in the entire time we’ve lived in this house”. Like clockwork, the next day, it burned out. Just from the thought of it. Really. It was my fault—I jinxed it with mere thought.

And, that has made me begin to wonder about this year so far which is off to a kind of rocky start. I can’t recall having the thought “2012 is going to be a great year!” or anything of the sort.  And, as years go, it’s certainly not the worst thus far (knock on wood). But, even if I had a bout of fleeting optimism about the upcoming year, I can’t recall being so inconsiderate as to have not contradicted this with a healthy dose of woe to counteract it.  That would have been irresponsible. I wouldn’t do that.  I know better.  Sure, the logical among us aren’t worried about such things. Good things happen and bad things happen, they rationalize. These same people may even think that one has free will over these things. And, I’m not arguing, but…

…it really doesn’t hurt anyone to knock on wood, to keep shoes off the table, and even to avoid wearing green, if that’s what it takes.  I’m not saying that being superstitious is right for everyone. But, I do have some advice: on your return flight from Korea (which somehow takes 24 hours), don’t have a big meal that includes—delicious, though it may be—a copious amount of spicy cabbage, Korean barbecue, and kimchee (more cabbage!) That could really amount to some bad luck, at least for your fellow passengers.  

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