I am superstitious. I am also a worrier. This wonderful combination enables me to look at the world differently from most others.
If, for example, we are going on a vacation, I do not talk about it ahead of time. That, after all, is inviting trouble. I have no clear notion of the mechanism that leads from my mentioning the trip to the sabotaging of it, no visions of goblins, evil spirits in the air, little flying beasts who will work to wreck the entire enterprise once their tiny ears pick up from my chatter that we are going away. No. There is just this vague feeling of great unseen powers all around, whose sole object is to ruin my life. Actually that is not strictly true. These powers may also try to ruin the lives of others.
But I am not consistent. When it comes to others I am utterly rational, my feet firmly on the ground, seeing superstition for the silly nonsense it really is. Many years ago someone told me that he had been forced to cancel a vacation, his first in years, because his boiler had broken. Then he said: “My wife was right. I shouldn’t have talked about it.” And he added, in Yiddish: Emetser fargint mir nisht-which is best rendered as: “There is someone who begrudges me this trip.” My immediate response? “What nonsense. No one begrudges you anything. Your boiler simply broke.”
In a sense, he was more rational about his lunacy than I am about mine. After all, he believed that there were actually real people out there who resented any good fortune that might fall his way, and wished ardently for it to fall out of his way. The only phenomenon unexplained was the means of transmission from their wish to its fulfillment--how did it travel from their resentment, an event in their minds, into the hard fact of a broken boiler in his basement. I, on the other hand, do not imagine that people are against me. There is nothing so real in my vision. For me, even the sources that are out to get me are shrouded in mystery.
My wife and I were going to take a trip to France. A few days prior to our departure, a doctor informed my mother-in-law that she had spinal stenosis in a very serious location that would need immediate treatment. That would be the end of our vacation. I understood immediately that this was the result of my having discussed our trip with a friend. No question about it. I was responsible. But when we consulted a specialist, he said the first doctor’s statement was far too extreme. No emergency. Sighs of relief all round. But I understood that the forces were at work against us and our trip, and if one method failed, another would be tried very soon.
And so it proved. The morning of our departure, I was driving from our home in Morton Grove south on the Edens Expressway when I noticed a huge traffic pile-up on the northbound lane caused by a stopped truck facing sideways that was surrounded by many emergency vehicles. On the radio they said this was a ‘medical matter.’ No further information. I didn’t need any. It was immediately obvious to me that this was a spill of dangerous materials that would soon make its way up to Morton Grove, necessitating an evacuation of all houses, including ours, and that we would be unable to complete (in my case, start) packing, and thus our vacation would be over before it began. For some inexplicable reason, this proved not to be the case.
Later in the day we arrived at the airport (5 hours early) and shot through security in no time flat. After we took our seats near the gate from which our plane was to depart, I noticed two very suspicious-looking characters sitting near us. This couple was arguing loudly, and occasionally the man’s voice rose to a scream. I couldn’t determine what language they were speaking, but it sounded ugly. I immediately reported them to an airline clerk, and she promised to keep an eye on them. Then they moved away. Apparently they were not going on our flight. I later noticed the airline clerk eyeing me with a mixture of amusement and suspicion.
We took off on time and had a wonderful trip.