I believe in superstition. I knock on wood, wear an evil-eye bracelet, and tell people “don’t jinx it!” I come from a long line of rational people: my parents and I have graduate degrees, and my husband is a research scientist with a PhD in mathematics. So why am I so superstitious? I believe that superstition is shorthand for two emotions that are crucial to happiness: humility and gratitude.
A rabbi I know says that even though we want to think so, we aren’t entitled to have an easy or convenient life. For me, knocking on wood is a humble reminder that whatever we wish for may not work out as we expect. When I was pregnant with my son, I hoped that he would love and have a talent for music. This wasn’t crazy: I sing and play the piano and my mother-in-law is an accomplished pianist. But I forgot to knock on wood, to recognize that our fates or our genes might have other ideas for us. My son has Asperger’s Syndrome and can’t tolerate music. I found this out when he was three and I took him to music class. He spent the whole time either running back and forth in agitation or hiding under the covered piano in the corner. I didn’t anticipate, though, that Asperger’s Syndrome could be a blessing too: my son never lies, is so loyal to his family that he will let his little sister beat him in a lightsaber duel, and can tell you the difference between Euoplocephalus and Ankylosaurus.
My hopes for my daughter went a little differently. I had always wanted to dance but took music lessons instead. So I thought, if my little girl wants ballet lessons, she’s getting them. Again, I didn’t knock on wood, and fate laughed. My daughter has a physical disability that prevents her from running, jumping, or climbing the stairs easily. And yet, I am so grateful for the feisty, bold, imaginative person she is. She will tell you, “I am not afraid of shots, I am not afraid of dogs, I am not afraid of anything!” She is always first in line at gym. At swimming she goes under water and comes up laughing. She draws intricate pictures of reptiles, complete with scales and teeth. Oh, and she does dance, with her shoulders and head, whenever a favorite song comes on.
Sometimes we wish for the wrong things and life gives us something better instead. I am grateful for the many blessings in my life just as it is, blessings which I know I have done nothing to deserve: a husband who makes up goofy stories for the kids; school caseworkers who gave my son the most services possible so he could achieve to his potential; our kids’ doctor, who tracked us down on vacation to tell us our daughter’s test results for a particularly scary disease were negative; the family and friends who offer sympathy and help; and two children who I hope will always be as lucky as I am. Knock on wood.