Signs… and superstitions

Photo by Kellie Lambert

“There is superstition… Writing on the wall…” — Stevie Wonder

Sometimes, when you least expect it, you see something that speaks to you.

It’s “a sign,” you think. A message.

It emerges out of the blue, and makes you think that something good (or bad) is about to happen, that someone from another earthy realm is sending you a message. It could be as simple as seeing a butterfly or a heart-shaped cloud n in the sky, reading a horoscope and experiencing it come true, or as complicated as finding a four-leaf clover or having a psychic tell you something no one would know.

I do believe in signs, these messages and moments, although I think that sometimes we stretch coincidences in the hopes of finding more of them when our souls are searching. Not every penny on the ground is a penny from heaven. Not every horoscope comes true. A rainbow could be anyone’s message from beyond, but we often relate them as a connection to the great beyond. Sometimes, I believe that signs are more complicated and personal, sent to us when we need them most. Some might laugh at that because it’s more logical to accept everything at face value, like that feather falling from the sky is not from an angel’s wing, but from a wayward bird. My logic and faith battle, at times, to decipher what I need in that moment.

My grandmother was a superstitious person, teaching us not to put shoes on the table, that a bird flying into a window meant bad luck, and — a more usual belief personal to our family — that we could not bake a lemon cake or someone just might kick the bucket. We knew much of it was nonsense, but a part of you wonders: “Hmmm? What if…”

Today, I remember her superstitions, and I still cringe when someone sets a shoebox with new shoes on a table, or if a wayward bird grazes the sliding glass door, or if lemon cake is on the dessert table. And I have my own stable of signs, including the heart-shaped rocks I search for at the beach and in mountain rivers, that come home to my garden as good luck charms; that a dragonfly nearby is a visit from a loved one; or a song on the radio delivered at the right time is a message from the beyond.

I once taught a class where my students and I talked about superstitions and how they trigger good and bad responses in our brains. Superstitions may be all in our head — but as much as they are all in our head, they may also psych ourselves up to perform a task a certain way. If an athlete puts a right sock on before a left sock before a game, that routine may just trigger a better performance from him. Recently, I was reading about a major league baseball player who insisted on Wham’s “Careless Whisper” as his walk-up song, a hilarious choice, but he had heard it in the locker room and it was a sign to him. When he used it at the game, he smacked that ball out of the park. Coincidence? Possibly. But did he believe and therefore his brain convinced him that it allowed him to hit the ball farther? Did he hear the strains of sexy 80s saxophone and think “Homerun! I got this!”

Some superstitions and signs just make us feel better. Many in my life know of my superstition with ladybugs; I have always had a connection to the little red creatures. There is no killing of ladybugs in my house — just put them gently back outside because it’s bad luck to take their life, or so my late grandmother taught me. Her house was full of ladybugs — they would come in swarms each season, likely because they just infested the old place. But because of that, I associated ladybugs with my grandmother. Coincidentally, her name was Mary, and ladybugs are associated with Mary, the mother of Jesus, whom my grandmother truly adored. So, it comes full circle — ladybugs and Mary, to me, are about my grandmother.

On the day I was to deliver my twins, three weeks before my due date, I saw a ladybug. This might not seem so unusual, but it was December, in an ice storm, and I was sitting in a hospital waiting room about to have an ultrasound check-up on my unborn babies and terrified about having a C-section in the coming weeks. The waiting room had no windows, and there, on the wall behind my chair on that chilly, stormy day, was a single ladybug crawling up the wall. I knew, when I saw that ladybug, that the day to give birth had arrived, before the ultrasound tech even saw me and confirmed it. It was almost as if my grandmother was saying “It’s time! Calm down! It will be OK.” And within an hour or so later, I was told that indeed, it was time. And everything turned out fine. It was, to me, a true sign.

Today, not every ladybug I see is my grandmother sending me a message, but I do think of her when I see one. I have an armful of silver bracelets — one with a ladybug, one with Mary and one with angel wings in the shape of a heart — and every time I put them on, I am comforted in the memories of my grandmother and others whom I believe send me signs. And I consider my bracelets as good luck. Superstition? Possibly. But it can’t hurt, and I can take all the help I can get.




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