Sunday, January 6, 2013

2013 Jitters

Dear George,
I’m usually not that superstitious, but there’s something about 2013 that makes me uneasy.  Maybe it’s because it’s the only year in my lifetime that will have a 13 in it.  Needless to say, I’ll never have been around in the 1300’s or the 2130’s or 1913, and even the very young among us probably won’t stick around till 2113.  So if we’re ever to have a really unlucky numerical year, 2013 is it.  I wouldn’t worry that much except that twelve months is such a long time.  Since bad luck could strike at any time during the year, you have to stay on the alert for 525,600 consecutive minutes.  That requires unbelievable concentration, though I’ve managed to stay on guard for all of January so far. 

Nobody knows exactly how 13 became so unlucky.   One theory is that it’s because on Friday the 13th in October 1307 the King of France ordered the arrest of the Knights Templar, many of whom were subsequently tortured or burned at the stake.  Another popular idea is that it’s because there were 13 dinner guests at the Last Supper and because Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, was seated in the 13th chair.  But the Bible doesn’t really go into the details of seating arrangements, so that’s just a hunch.  We Scandinavians know from Norse mythology that, when the evil god Loki joined a banquet of 12 Norse deities (making 13 gods present), the supposedly immortal god Balder was killed by an arrow made of mistletoe.  That marked the beginning of the end.  Loki strikes me as the most convincing explanation of 13’s frightening reputation.  

In Iran the 13th day of each new year is considered sinister and wicked.  It's called Sizdah Be-dar and is an official holiday.  Even today, many people in Iran flee urban areas and camp in the countryside in order to escape the chaos caused by the evil spirits. The 13th card in a tarot deck is "Death", depicted by a pale horse and its rider.  Covens normally include 12 witches, and, when the devil arrives for their ceremonies, he makes up the 13th member.  Thirteen is also the age at which new apprentices begin their witchcraft training.  The hangman's noose traditionally is made up of 13 turns, and there are usually13 steps leading up to the hangman's gallows.  The thirteenth chapter of the Book of Revelations is devoted to the Antichrist and the Beast.  It’s long been believed that 13 guests at a dinner table spell the likelihood of the death of one of them within the year, and some French aristocrats used to hire themselves out when there was a need for a fourteenth guest.  Many hotels and tall buildings skip 13 in their numbering of floors, and even Formula One auto racing prohibits its cars from being assigned the number 13. 

Of course, not everybody thinks that 13 is an unlucky number.  In Italy 13 is considered to be lucky, and in China it’s 4 rather than 13 that presages bad luck.  In Judaism the number 13 has many positive connotations: God has 13 attributes of mercy; Maimonides lists 13 principles of faith; and the Purim victory celebrated by Queen Esther took place on the 13th day of Adar.    Numerous sports superstars have worn number 13, e.g., Dan Marino, Wilt Chamberlain, Alex Rodriguez, Yao Ming.  An online poll conducted last week just before New Year’s Eve found that 87% of respondents, rather than fearing bad luck in the coming year, felt that they would be better off in 2013.  When asked whether people should be worried about 2013 being an unlucky year, 97% thought that was foolish.  That’s fine, though over the years I’ve found that, whenever 97% of the people believe anything, it’s almost always the dissenting 3% who are right.  This holds true for politics, religion, most social issues, respect for public figures, and causes of health and happiness.

The potential for bad luck is really everywhere.  We live on a curvy street where speeding vehicles occasionally wind up in our front yard, and an errant fire truck or city bus could easily take down the front half of our house.   There’s a lot of other stuff too: lightning strikes, germs on doorknobs, bridge collapses, waking up blind, being eaten by bears while camping, falling down the stairs, radon seepage, choking on olive pits, freezing to death while taking photos in Burnet Woods.  When you consider all the bad luck possibilities, it’s remarkable that we’re still around.   

I think 2013 will be pretty unlucky, and there are quite a few obviously intelligent people on the Internet who agree with me.  In particular, people are worried about getting married or having babies in 2013.  My advice is to wait at least five or ten years to get married and certainly don’t get pregnant before March 31, 2013. Unfortunately, aside from staying in bed the entire year, there’s no guaranteed way of being totally safe.  Every year a bunch of unlucky things happen to all of us, and, if you count minor mishaps, some unlucky things happen virtually every single day.   We’ll keep our fingers crossed.  If we take the right precautions (e.g., don’t step on cracks in the sidewalk), we’ll hopefully come out o.k.  I wish they’d taken a cue from the hotels and just skipped from 2012 to 2014.  But it’s too late now to do it.

Sources: ("2013: Lucky, unlucky or just another year"); (“Unlucky 13?”); ("Poll: Majority optimistic about 'unlucky' 2013");  llm: wwwlifeslittlemysteries ("number 13 bad luck"); (“13 common [but silly] superstitions”); ("Why is 13 an unlucky number?"); wo: ("13 [number]"); (“13 isn’t unlucky”)

G-mail Comments
-Linda K-C (1-7):  Now I AM scared, not your comments, new year always frightens me. What will it bring?
-Vicki L (1-6): Dear David, As you know (I think), I was rushing and rattled last week to the point of simply crashing my car into my office building tearing off half the front bumper.  Consequently, I'm in complete agreement with you and have spent 5 out of the last 10 days trying to stay safe by confining myself to bed…  Love, Sis
-Jennifer M (1-6): I suppose our assessment of 2013 will depend on how we apply our selective attention.  I'm afraid that I'm with you.  :-)

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