When I was 12, I broke a hand mirror that my mother kept on her antique vanity.
Two sources of dread assailed me:
1. My mother, who would be angry (Livid? Furious? Annoyed?) because the mirror got broken and because I was playing there. We couldn't help it, we three daughters of hers; we loved that vanity with its large oval mirror and mahogany wood curlicues. We enjoyed watching her put on make-up there and fix her hair. Very glamorous!
2. Seven years of bad luck. I was now facing this interminable sentence simply for breaking a glass object. Why did this have to happen, I wondered, frantically. And who decided this dire fate? Whatever the start of the superstition, I was stuck with it. I did the math – slowly, I was never good at that sort of thing, especially when it came to the number 7 – and calculated I would have bad luck until I was 19. Nineteen! That was forever! How would I survive those long, looooong years of gloom?
An article in the August/September issue of AARP's magazine, cited a 2014 YouGov survey about superstitions: "… almost three-quarters of those over 65 and older reported they weren't at all superstitious." Apparently we elders were the least superstitious among those surveyed.
I have a theory about that.
I have a theory about that.
The silvering crowd is less superstitious because of experience and current lifestyles.
As a young adult in college, I regularly consulted the I Ching – a Chinese forecasting system – to see what was coming in my future. I wasn't alone. All the lasses did it. We wondered about our love lives, our careers, or happiness. If faced with a decision, how nice to have it decided by a random toss of sticks than by ourselves.
We also consulted Tarot cards, although this was much more complicated, and we soon tired of the effort.
But horoscopes, now there was a quick, easy glimpse into future fame and fortune. Daily review of horoscopes – "horrorscopes" my Dad irreverently called them – was a topic at most cafeteria meals. "Beware of taking a long trip," it would say. "Consider postponing for a day." Then we would wring our hands in indecision. Should we wait? Should we go?
As a college student, I'm not gonna lie, I frequently invoked good luck charms before tests. I avoided ladders so I wouldn't accidentally walk under them, and also black cats. These omens might affect my grades, or my love life, or my future – whatever that held.
For some reason, I didn't trust myself to get good grades or find the perfect mate; I needed a boost from the outside.
Gradually, I fell in love and married, began a career, took numerous trips safely, no matter what was foretold. I had children and worried about them, but I was more likely to consult them directly about my worries than consult a superstition.
Over time, I ignored ladders and black cats. I stopped throwing sticks for the I Ching, or reading my daily horoscope. So did most of my friends. The future was no longer exciting or dreadful, but predictable. Barring a cataclysmic event such as fire or earth quake, we knew how our days would roll out. We had control over our time and decisions. No need for outside consultation. Experience had shown us how to prepare without the aid of predictions.
This brings me to the second part of my theory about why people over 65 are less superstitious than others: current lifestyles.
Retired people do not take tests (well, except for medical ones – another blog post) so we've no need to seek help with them. If we go back to college to pursue a hobby or interest, we aren't concerned about grades.
At 58, I begged a professor of a literature class to at least pass me, even though I was not going to do half the assignments. I did pass the tests. She was kind, she gave me a C-.
If I had received an F, I would have shrugged my shoulders. I wasn't seeking a degree, just information about a topic. A classroom grade didn't matter to me.
This is the crux, isn't it – of believing in superstitions? If we've made it this far in our lives, the future just doesn't matter as much. Whether a day or activity is auspicious or not is unimportant. (See blog post: Second Adolescence about "I donwanna.")
I'm happy to report that as an elder, I am safely past those seven years of bad luck, I have plenty of wood in my house to knock on for good luck, and I only read my horoscope once a week.
Now, I can relax.