Knock on Wood

Somewhere between acting on superstition and rational thought is where you'll find me

Photograph by Getty Images

Rituals can be comforting, don’t you think? They can also shackle us to tiresome routines.

I’ve been contemplating my more private “protocols” of late, and trying to determine if they’re blessings, burdens or signs of OCD.

I will tell you up front — I perceive myself as typical when it comes to simultaneously acting on superstition and rational thought. Isn’t this fairly common? Don’t most of us float between hedging our bets and scientific principle?

As for obsessions and compulsions, those who know me may say my shoe shopping borders on the former. As for the latter, a shrink once suggested I was compulsive about writing. But we’ll come back to that in a minute.

For now, I’d like to submit a few tidbits that I rarely disclose.

I whisper to the gods — all of them — when my boys board a plane. I offer a non-secular thank you once they’ve safely landed.

When I take to the air myself, I carry a small photograph of my children that I can look at and touch.

I have routines for journeys on the highway, routines for locking up the house at night, routines in preparation for public speaking. Hell, I’ve got routines for brushing and flossing.

Are you beginning to think I’m OCD?

Not so fast. My house is messy, my schedule is variable and gone gone gone is the strictly monitored morning routine since my kids left for college.

Bedtime? It’s equally inconsistent, subject to reading, writing and the presence of the man in my life.

Definitely not OCD.

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But looking back, I could tell a different story.

As a child I tallied everything; I counted constantly; I calculated sums in my head throughout the day and into the night.

I absorbed superstitions a-plenty and adhered religiously to guidelines for good luck.

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“Step on a crack — break your mother’s back” had me hop-skip-and-jumping over sidewalks.

Summer afternoons were spent in pursuit of four-leaf clovers and ladybugs were welcome to use my arms as landing strips.

I reveled in found pennies; I paused for black cats; I avoided walking under ladders; I was cautious with mirrors. Incidentally, to this day, I’ve never broken a mirror … knock on wood.

Unlike my friends, I shunned the once ubiquitous rabbit’s foot, but I possessed an assortment of objects including rocks, shells, chains and lockets.

There was a special necklace in my teens and twenties, an adored bracelet in my thirties and forties and my wedding rings, of course, all providing a sense of belonging, until, well … it was time to slip them off.

When it comes to ensuring the safety of those we love or battling back fears we may not understand, don’t we all have our trinkets and talismans, our rituals and routines, our literal rites of passage? Don’t most of us bargain with the powers-that-be?

How much difference is there between a frightened child clutching a lucky nugget of fool’s gold and an anxious adult clinging to a family photograph?

Yet the reality is — losses happen. I have many I could speak of as I’m certain that you do. So what shall we call them: bad luck or just life?

As for my habits, my quirks, my superstitions — I no longer count stairs, run calculations or hop willy-nilly over concrete slabs. I don’t concern myself with cats and their colors, and my accessories are a function of fashionable selection and only that.

So, am I superstitious or obsessive-compulsive?

If I’m obsessive about brushing and flossing, my hygienist will tell you she’s delighted. If I’m compulsive about composing words, I will tell you that I’m delighted.

When it comes to rituals that involve my sons — their health, their travels, their choices — I continue to do my part by whispering to the gods and yes, as I say that, I’m knocking on wood.

Tags: memoirs

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