Tuesday, December 01, 2009

It's About the Threes

When I was a kid a friend told me that airplane crashes always come in threes, so if a plane crashed at a time I was supposed to travel I shouldn’t go. Obviously, if you gotta go, you gotta go. This meant, that when I got on a plane, after two planes crashed, within a few days of my trip, I simply prayed a lot and hoped for the best. This was not as disconcerting as when my college boyfriend took me to the airport and told me that my number wasn’t up, but – (and he would point) “you see that guy going with you, his number is.” Needless to say, I lived, but it was a sign the relationship was doomed.

Holidays always seem to be a time when people are celebrating or they are getting sick. For example, this week I found out that the grandson of one of my friends has leukemia, a treasured cousin has inoperable pancreatic cancer, and an old friend has a brain tumor.

This week there were three news stories that were equally unimportant and yet, received an overwhelming amount of media attention. First there was the White House party crasher story. Then there was the Tiger Woods, “did she try to kill him or save him” story. And last but not least, Chelsea Clinton is getting married to a nice Jewish boy. Should I send them a copy of “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles”. I know his mother must be kvelling. I mean, I know his mother and I know she must be kvelling.

What is it about the number three. Or, maybe a better question is, what is it about superstitions that make us pay attention and find significance in something like a number. In my family there were no shortage of superstitions. Although some were ridiculous, some actually seemed to make sense. (Sense may not be exactly the right word but in my family it's hard to distinguish between sense and nonsense.) Some superstitions were directed specifically at the women in the family. One of them was, “if you throw something at a pregnant woman, the mice will eat your clothes". Or, if you go down the staircase backwards, you will get your period. And, my own personal favorite, “if you have your period when you make the horse radish—it will never be hot enough.” If, on Passover when they had worked to make the horse radish unbreathable, and you could open the jar and still breathe, she would line us all up and insist we confess about being ‘clean'. (When you have your period you are not ‘clean’) Other old wives’ tales or as my grandmother called them bubemeisters seemed to be a bit more rational. For example, if you lose something, and you turn a glass upside down on the table, you will find it. (Try it, it’s amazing.)

There were also bubemeisters to which she insisted we pay attention: You never moved into a new home without first putting salt, flour, and sugar in the cabinet and a broom in the closet. And most importantly, you never did anything (like dress your children to well) or anything that would draw the attention of someone who might give you the evil eye. Now aren’t those refreshing. Especially in light of the horrible 'three' thing.

This is also the time of year when we think about things like our own mortality, what we weigh, and how to avoid fighting with our families at holiday dinners. But it should also be a time to remember that no matter how hard we try to live good lives, life is so tenuous that there is no predicting what will happen. So, I would say, err on the cautious side and stay away from black cats and broken mirrors. We’re just sayin’… Iris

1 comment:

The Other David said...

Oops--you need a return visit with the Yiddish speakers. I don't think your grandmother said "bubemeister." It's almost always spelled (in English) "bubbe meisa" or "bubbe meinsa," but never with "meister." We can't have the Goyim walking around and destroying our heritage.