When I say that I’m superstitious, some friends snort or roll their eyes. This is because in large swathes of my life I am practical and try to take a rational approach to problem solving. I will look for a natural explanation before a supernatural one (even if I don’t rule out the supernatural one), and I believe that coincidence is a thing. I maintain that none of this precludes me being superstitious too.
In some areas, I think my superstitions are so mundane and common that they barely count. In fact, my first example, even though it sounds like a superstition, is actually a rational response based on facts. This is the scenario when I say, after hearing a name or a word I don’t quite grasp, “How do you spell that?” and the person I’m asking says in a lofty, superior tone, “Just like it sounds.” This guarantees that I will spell it wrong.
The mere fact that I had to ask how to spell it means that hearing the word/name did not immediately suggest the proper spelling. Thus, for me, it isn’t going to be “just like it sounds,” and I know if I get that kind of snarky answer, unless I persist in asking, I will spell it wrong.
Two others that I share with many people: when someone says, “It’s really easy,” whether it’s yoga, a recipe or a model kit, I know I’m going to screw it up. And the third one; the person who is giving me directions and ends with, “You can’t miss it,” has just doomed me to being lost for at least 20 minutes.
Superstition has come out of the closet in recent decades, mostly around sporting events, so it’s become a little more acceptable. The rhetorical tempting of fate is something many people steer clear of (“What could possibly go wrong?”); I’m one of them. I think black cats are beautiful; ladders hold no terrors for me. Thirteens and trios of sixes don’t bother me at all, but I do choose to take certain things as “signs.”
I will almost always see a rainbow as some symbol of optimism or hope. It might just be that a rainbow is pretty, or that it usually signifies a break in rain, but I live in California where until this winter we were in a six-year dry spell. I didn’t want the rain to stop, but I still felt a little uplift when I saw a rainbow.
Last week I went up to the town of Mendocino to read through the Project, something I hadn’t done and was somewhat dreading. The morning I was preparing to leave, I saw that a story I had sold several months ago had appeared in the online magazine that day. I couldn’t help it; I saw that as a positive omen. It was nothing of the kind; the editor had told me the story would come out in April or May; it came out in April; it wasn’t even random. I didn’t care, it felt like an omen.
Recently, I went to the downtown area of a large town near my home. I parked in a different place than usual; a few blocks from the historic city center in a residential neighborhood. It was a gorgeous spring day, sunny, the middle of the afternoon as I walked back from my errands towards my car. As I turned the corner onto the street where my car was parked, I saw a man walking toward me. He was about five foot ten; he had an SF Giants baseball cap and brown hair. He looked… ordinary. As he drew even with me, he suddenly patted all his pockets in the time-honored pantomime of “where are my keys (or wallet/phone/whatever)?” and turned around so that he was walking the same direction I was, right next to me, between me and the street.
I was uncomfortable. He didn’t say another or look directly at me, and I didn’t look directly at him, but my anxiety ticked up. I picked up my pace a bit and so did he, so he was still right alongside. I wear my purse messenger-bag-style, but the bag itself was on my left hip, facing him.
All I had to do was cross the street, but I started to slip into old passive behaviors, worry that I would hurt his feelings or be embarrassed because he really was just someone who thought he’d left something in his car. While I was dithering, a crow flew overhead, its shadow sliding over me. I hear it caw, and I stopped, turned and walked across the street in the middle of the block (there were no cars coming). The crow—it was a young crow – landed on the corner of the roof of a building on the side I crossed to. It cawed five times, then took wing and flew up that side of the street, toward my car, landing on the roof of the next building. It cawed again.
I side-eyed the guy across the street. He had stopped next to a car and chirped his remote, then turned again and headed back the way he had been walking when I first saw him. Maybe he really was afraid he hadn’t locked it, or maybe he wanted to put on a good show. Maybe he was completely innocent. If so, I doubt he gave more than a second thought, if that, to the eccentric older woman who jaywalked for no apparent reason.
My point is that the shadow of the crow spurred me to trust my instincts.
About that crow; it was just being a crow. It wasn’t consciously guiding me to safety, even if I want to see the events that way. Still, I chose to take that shadow gliding over me as a sign. I’m not sure I would have turned away and crossed at just that moment otherwise. Probably, if I hadn’t, nothing would have happened. But it took a “sign” to get me to opt for self-preservation, and if that’s superstition, I think I can live with that.