Very Superstitious

Next memoir post is up.

My ex-mother-in-law was very superstitious. She regularly visited fortune tellers and believed that dark colors brought bad luck, like the black fish I gave my ex one year for Christmas (hence the title of my memoir and this blog).

It wouldn’t have mattered except my ex believed it too, blaming me for everything from his not getting into law school to his mother’s Parkinson’s-induced falls. He even took our highly incompatible Chinese signs, the horse (him) and the rat (me) – described as “disastrous” and simply “no no no” in horoscopes – and invented a story of the rat eating the horse’s grain. The funny thing was that his mother was also year of the rat, as well as, I think, the woman he had an affair with.

I, however, have never been superstitious. My parents were never into rituals like hanging a mirror opposite a window to ward off negative spirits, or taping a fou character upside down on their door (upside down so it’s easier for good luck to slip in). The most they believe in is eating long noodles on your birthday for a long life, though they don’t think no noodles = sudden death. More like, it doesn’t hurt to try.

I remember the first and only time I tried believing in good luck. I was taking the SATs and convinced myself that my jade necklace would help me do well. The opposite: I was so distracted by rubbing the stone that I lost my ID, had to go back in the parking lot to find it, and couldn’t. The facilitator let me take the test anyway, and I completely screwed up, scoring 200 points lower than the first time I took it.

When bad things happen to me, I never think, I have bad luck. Yesterday when I went out to meet MB for lunch, it was sunny. Afterwards I popped into Macy’s for a bit (yes, ANOTHER trip to Macy’s, must stop!) and when I came out it was pouring. Like, end of the world, rapture rain. And of course I didn’t have an umbrella. But I didn’t think, I have bad luck. I thought well of course I didn’t have an umbrella because it was sunny when I left, and everyone waiting in the lobby had also been caught off guard. Did we all have bad luck, or was it just a freaky storm?

Then of course when I finally bought an umbrella, the rain slowed to a trickle. But did my action actually CONTROL THE ELEMENTS? I don’t think so. I probably unconsciously waited the right amount of time for a rainstorm to pass.

The most I believe in is an energy we can’t see, like if several electronic items break down at once, I assume Mercury must be in retrograde. I believe that everything happens for a reason, that every step (and misstep) we take leads us to something, even if it’s just knowledge, or even if that something is very far away. That something is important, but the path there is important too.

Believing in luck, good or bad, makes people feel like they have control over uncontrollable situations, and in a way relinquish responsibility. I left my purse on the train, spilled my coffee, and got splashed by a puddle because I have bad luck or I must have done something wrong, not because these things just sometimes happen to anyone. When my ex was studying for his bar, he asked me to think positive thoughts for him. Instead of worrying about what was going in my head, maybe he should have been studying more. He passed, but if he hadn’t, in his mind he’d have had the luxury of blaming me.

I don’t believe making a wish will ward off death. I’m trying to believe worrying doesn’t do shit.

But when weird things happen, I can’t help but wonder why. Is it fate, some bigger force pushing us down a certain path, making certain decisions? If I hadn’t gone to China that particular year, my cousin would have never met the man she’d leave her first husband for; she wouldn’t have her daughter. But I wouldn’t have gone to China at all if my grandmother and mother hadn’t returned the year before. They wouldn’t have returned at all if they hadn’t left in the first place. Why did my grandmother leave and my cousin’s grandmother stay? Because my grandmother married a really rich guy, and my cousin’s grandmother didn’t?

If you get right down to it, my cousin’s husband can thank the Communists for bringing him his true love. Their baby Mia exists because of the Communists! My brother and I, my cousins, and their children wouldn’t have been born if all of our parents hadn’t met in Taiwan or the U.S. We all exist because of Mao! Thank you Chairman Mao!

Crazy.  Makes your head spin if you think about it too much.


  1. I had the same thought – if it wasn’t for anti-semitism and my father getting rejected from Moscow University because of it, he never would have gone to Minsk and met my Mom. Or if you believe in fate (rather than supersitition), you might say then our parents would have met some other way, anyway.

    • hey, good to hear you! i feel like fate is the flip side to superstition, basically a predetermined chain of events you have no control over. i’d like to think we have control over our choices in life, and maybe there are a few possible paths for us. it’s up to us to decide on which. reminds me of how madeleine l’engle compares life to a sonnet – there’s structure but the poet still has freedom within that structure.