“Superstition is foolish, childish, primitive and irrational – but how much does it cost you to knock on wood?” — Judith Viorst
You know by now that I believe that our outlook on life is largely dependent upon what we choose to see. If we are suspicious by nature, we will find much to be wary about; if driven by the need to find fault – there’s more than enough out there to satisfy the need; the shallow heart will find no grace, etc. The converse is also true – if you find this world an intriguing place to be, I promise you moments upon moments of wonder. And, if you have a tendency to stare life in the face with a smile – there is much to find that will amuse and delight. Yes, yes I know – once again I am being simplistic, for I am not writing about the horrors that cannot be avoided, the wars that continue without surcease (or even purpose at times), the frightening twists of fate that defy explanation. So bear with me here, and let’s go back to the original premise, ok?
I spent yesterday afternoon in a hospital waiting room – Andy had to have his knee scoped and a ligament tear repaired. First and foremost, he’s fine. He was in the operating room for under thirty minutes, recovery for an hour or so and when I saw him in recovery, he was sucking down Diet Pepsi like it was nectar and tearing open saltines and graham crackers as if they were haute cuisine. His eyes were bright, his thoughts a little muddled and his awareness of the crumbs falling down onto his blankets as he inhaled whatever the nurses gave him, definitely compromised. In other words – my boy was back. And I whispered “thank you”.
But this is about the micro-society known as ‘the waiting room’. Fascinating place. Just to caveat this – this is the waiting room for same-day surgeries – everyone gets to go home at the end of the day. In the back of the room, there was a family of eight – they brought enough food with them to feed a third world country and the smells were overwhelming. An abundance of mayonnaise, ham and cheese and popcorn really smells. First they thanked God for their food, then conversation began to flow which resembled a meeting of people with ADD or no real interest in engaging each other in conversation..
“When is Buddy gonna stop visiting with her? I want to go back before they take her”
“Did you hear about Renee’s son? I don’t want to say anything but he is t-r-o-u-b-l-e. What? Oh, believe me I can tell – even before they’re walkin’ I can tell.”
“Sugar, hit me with some of that Pepsi will you?”
“I heard that John was seen messin’ with that girl who just started workin’ at his job. No, I didn’t see them, but I’ve heard.”
“Anyone seen Buddy?”
You get the picture. When Buddy came back, he advised that their loved one had gone to the operating room, which did prompt ten seconds of silence (thank you Buddy). Disjointed talking resumed. As soon as the doctor came to tell them that all had gone well, there was a chorus of perfectly timed “Thank You Jesus, Mary and Joseph” and a short prayer recited by all giving thanks for everything going well. Honestly, I was surprised they could say anything in unison – let alone the same thing in unison.
The woman sitting next to me was waiting for her husband to have knee replacement surgery. She told me all about her own knee injury from years ago, her daughter and son-in-law, (they separated for awhile but now they’re back together, “knock on wood”) and what a crotchety patient her spouse was going to be (“I can say that now that I know he’s going to be just fine,” she said). The gentleman to my right was on the phone talking about some horrid surgery he had had on his shoulder, with details so graphic I had to get up and get some water. And I couldn’t help but overhear, “Don’t say that man, no jinxes, ok?”
Miscellaneous information – the volunteers who keep families apprised of patients’ statuses are women over the age of ninety-five. Very sweet, all three wearing wigs that in one way or another need some adjustment (I swear, one woman had lost her forehead under that hair), all six freckled hands ended each conversation with a pat on the back, the shoulder, etc. Well, all conversations when they weren’t talking amongst themselves about going to see The King And I at WolfTrap this Friday, their seats, favorite songs, what to wear. But how can you begrudge anyone that senior who is volunteering their time, when it’s the one item in their pantry in the most limited supply?
I could go on – the waiting room was full. I learned about procedures, siblings, a teenager who broke his wrist during pre-season football practice (his mom insisting it was because he wasn’t wearing his St. Christopher medal, his dad disagreeing and blaming it on his son being out with his friends the night before practice – we are always looking for explanations aren’t we – even when it’s an accident). Adult identical twin sisters wearing the exact same outfits – ‘for luck’.
By the time I saw Andy, I was more than ready to leave this hive with its cacophony of buzzes. But I’m no different – just quieter. I whispered my prayer to the morning sky, making sure I could spot a star before any words came from my lips. Last week, when another member of our family was in the hospital, I paced and negotiated and kept looking for signs to assure me all was well. My friend Suz says that when she sees a dragonfly, she thinks it’s a sign from her dad. Suz, I’ve seen an abundance of dragonflies lately. One even stopped and hovered in front of me for a few seconds. I did say “Hi Sam” – even though he and I never met. The other morning, with no wind tickling the trees and the sun not yet awake, one tree began to sway with determination – demanding that I notice. One of my angels? A message from the universe that it knew I was there? I prefer those notions over any explicable scientific phenomena. Why there are more butterflies hanging around than usual or why the twin fawns rest in our backyard with no intention of fleeing even when they hear the Sirs and I on the deck.
Superstitions? My mother saying “tu tu tu” (or something pretty close to that) every time someone would say anything that needed to be protected from a negative result, wishing someone well and hearing them say “from your mouth to God’s ear”…There’s a negative connotation to superstition; a more understandable and accepted perspective when one attributes such actions to faith or tradition. At the end of the day, we’re hedging our bets when faced with a situation that could end either way. We’re putting our money on faith and hope. And we’re betting it all.