I was heading out of town recently and at the last second, a black cat went screaming across the road right in front of my car. While relieved I hadn’t hit it, I started thinking it might be a bad sign and it did make me wonder – if I had hit and killed the cat, would that still have been bad luck? Since, technically, it wouldn’t have been able to complete crossing my path if I had been able to … stop it.
While not the most superstitious of people, I did spend one soccer season exposing myself to numerous potential infections and social spurning by refusing to launder my socks for the entirety of the season. We lost in the state finals and I’m pretty sure I lost my faith in being superstitious somewhere around there. Other than it being somewhat cool, in only the way it would be in the early years of high school, that my socks were formed to my calf and could stand on their own without any support or help, I had dedicated a lot of time, risk and general nastiness to superstition and without the somewhat instant gratification I sought, I wasn’t able to commit more long term to the notion.
But years, perhaps decades, later, I was wondering if I would regret not nipping the cat were I to have an accident or some unfortunate event occur later on that day.
Where is the line between healthy superstition and overt obsessive compulsive disorder? How many times would we have tolerated Nomar Garciaparra adjusting and readjusting the velcro on his batting gloves for it to be diagnosed as superstition and when would that number have convinced us he was suffering from OCD? At what point do I stop thinking my son’s resistance to stepping on cracks in pavement is endearing and start worrying that he has a bit of an issue? The line is fine, and the gray area is wide.
And if there is a line between superstition and compulsion, where is the line between superstition and desperation? After my father passed away, my mom started seeing a lot of cardinals and now she believes that their presence or visibility in her life is my dad’s way of staying with her. He passed away in the Spring and so there were a lot of cardinals around, but I also know that during important times in her life since his death, she has often seen a cardinal. Is that the desperation of looking for a sign that someone we love is still active in our lives? Or is that maybe something more than coincidence? superstition, belief, flailing for a sign … call it what you will.
I feel more comfortable heading off into something unknown or risky, or even something I’ve done a million times but still want to do well or have go successfully when I can control some aspect of it. When I was in high school, I was sure that controlling the skankiness of my socks was going to determine the outcome of the game. It was a small contribution and one that brought my teammates much consternation during long van rides, but I wanted to believe that I had some control other than my performance on the field. Nomar, having no idea what pitch is coming towards him or how the outfield is going to handle his hit (despite being an incredible player and being able to control a lot of that) felt that tightening his gloves a certain number of times was going to affect his performance. My son probably feels more comfortable, more at ease, when his foot is squarely in the center of a piece of tile or pavement. And my mom, devastated from the sudden loss of my father, needs to feel that he is still with her, because after choosing to live your life with someone, who wants to live it without them?
I understand that my considering killing the cat, even though it was after the fact, is insane and twisted. But, I guess my point is that while some are more superstitious and compulsive than others, I believe we all have our little rituals. And who wants a cat’s unintentional travel path to determine whether or not they are going to be in a massive 25 car pile up later on that day!?