Anne Notations

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Oh God,

Save me from superstition. Or if I must be superstitious, let me see good omens, not portents of bad luck. Let me not be afraid.

I am 10 years old. We are visiting my grandparents in Massachusetts, setting up a cookout in the backyard in late afternoon. It must have rained earlier, because in the rays of the setting sun I see, suddenly, a perfect rainbow against gray clouds.

"Look!" I shout, pointing. "A rainbow!"

My grandmother, my dear adoring grandmother, is standing near me. Frantically she snatches my hand and pulls it to my side. "Don't ever point at a rainbow," she says. "Or a ringworm will grow around your finger!"

My eyes widen, and I stare at my finger. The rainbow is forgotten. Over near the grill with its glowing charcoal I hear my father mutter under his breath, "Aw, shut up, you old killjoy."

Growing up, I heard more like this. "Bad things [or deaths] come in threes." "Pearls foretell tears." "Never give glass or cutlery as a gift; it cuts friendship."

Save me, oh Lord, from allowing superstitions to rob my life of joy. Liberate me from attaching primitive human meanings to Your creations.


This morning as Daisy and I return home from our walk, a flutter of pure-white wings flashes above us. A dove – definitely not a pigeon, but the kind of dove you see on Christmas cards with an olive branch in its beak – lands on the roof of the corner house. It flutters to the ground, and after putting Daisy inside our front door, I go back and approach. Yes, it's definitely a dove. I talk to it, and it allows me to get within five or six feet of where it stands on the cold flattened grass. Then, with a nervous sidelong look, it soars up and over another house toward Brushneck Cove.

After posting an anonymous "Is your dove lost?" message on the Craigslist pet forum, I find myself waxing anxious. White: the color of death. In Costa-Gavras's excellent movie Missing, about the 1973 military coup that overthrew leftist president Salvador Allende in Chile, Sissy Spacek's character slinks furtively down a Santiago street, ducking into store entryways, while machine guns chatter in the distance. Then – oh, the heartbreaking beauty of it – a white horse gallops alone up the street past her. If you know anything about symbolism, you know that horse is Death. From that point on, Sissy's desperate mission to find her loved one is doomed, although she doesn't yet know it.

Why, God, am I fretting that the white dove that dropped into my life this morning is a harbinger of death? Why am I afraid of our little trip up Route 146 to Worcester this afternoon? Why can't the gleaming bird be a sign of good news, of peace, of love?

Only when typing the previous sentence did I remember that in our faith, a white dove represens the Holy Spirit. Jesus rose above the waters of his own baptism and "saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him."

Superstition is a quirky legacy of beloved ancestors, but it is not a mature, useful, or faith-attuned attitude toward our world and its mysteries. We all know the power of the lucky charm, the amulet or ritual that wards off evil: a rabbit's foot, a gods-eye, a medal around our necks. Witness the power of the chain letter: Don't break the chain or you'll suffer! It can't be true, yet how many times do we forward those letters – just in case? We're annoyed at our foolishness yet we can't help hedging our bets. Step on a crack and you'll break your mother's back! My progress to and from school as a first and second grader was a comedy of sidewalk half-steps, skips, and dread.

Those of us with anxiety disorder are particularly susceptible to magical, and fearful, thinking. It is often difficult for us to distinguish between the random occurrences of everyday life and a sense that Fate decides our fortune – a fortune that we can read in the stars, the tea leaves, the lines on a palm, or the surprising appearance of a dove the color of death.

Let me put away childish things, save my vivid imagination for creative endeavors, and go forth unafraid. Let me cheerfully watch our children venture forth into their lives without fixating on danger and doom. Let me accept that I cannot possibly divine the prophetic significance of a dove, or a rainbow, or a broken mirror. Today, let me enjoy the graceful swoop of a gleaming white bird with peace in my heart.



  • I liked this and other recent posts, need to catch up and comment.

    I think the best way to go is the way you're leaning. This is a big Jewish thing too. What my teachers taught me is that it's best to walk the straight an narrow, to put superstition aside. Laugh it off, let it go, and move on.

    May you be so blessed.

    By Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann, at Sun Feb 22, 10:05:00 AM EST  

  • I've heard those! One of my birthstones is pearl, and I always heard pearls meant tears, and then I heard it another way, that they absorb sorrows, and just like that they were okay to me.

    Almost every day I have to rationalize things like, "share this e-mail with all your friends, or doom will occur," that come from just about every family member I love dearly, and while I don't give things like that any power, there's a certain song I try not to listen to when it shows up because I swear bad things happen afterwards. In the light of day and in writing I file the song under quirks but I recognize that the things that have happened were things that were going to happen whether I'd been "warned" or not.

    I hope if anything your dove was like Noah's dove, bringing you peace and news of high ground.


    By Blogger BrideOfPorkins, at Sat Feb 28, 01:05:00 AM EST  

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