“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Arthur C. Clarke
As I stepped off the team bus before the game, I noticed a shiny penny balanced on the curb. Next to me, Mike noticed my hesitation.
“Pick it up,” he said, “You saw it first. Maybe it’s good luck.”
I shook him off and continued into the locker room.
I think that all athletes are superstitious. There’s just too much that happens in a sport competition that is inexplicable. Sure, the coaches tell you to make your own luck, and I think that goes a long way towards success. But still, it’s hard to predict where the ball will bounce. In fact, that’s part of the allure of watching or playing sports – anything can happen.
Stevie Wonder sang that believing in things you don’t understand is superstition, and I think we all accept a great deal that we do not understand. We can accept scientific theory or the opinion of others, expert or otherwise. Believing in superstition or magic or religion can make them real, at least to the believer.
I doubt that it hurts anyone if you worry about walking under a ladder or having a black cat cross your path. Of course it may make you late to your destination or make you feel a little silly, but we could all afford to be a little sillier. And if it helps you get through your day, sleep better at night, or survive life’s trials, it can be a good thing.
We are drawn to the unknown, whether it be murder mysteries or saintly miracles or eerie sounds from deep space. And once drawn, we seek an explanation from logic, science, folk lore or religion. Sometimes, it’s easier to accept the common wisdom: Murphy’s Law, telekinesis, God’s will (pick a god), or cookie crumbles.
My sixth grade class took a train trip from Ft. Worth to Colorado Springs where we saw all the sights. We rode up overnight, toured all day, then returned that night. In the dark early morning, I looked out the train window and saw a large cross in the sky made of stars. It was pretty impressive and in spite of innumerable summer nights spent outdoors I had never seen a cross in the sky before.
When I got home, I looked up “crosses in the sky” and found out that there really was only one, and it was only visible in the southern hemisphere. I had been toying with life questions and the small evangelical church we attended intermittently seemed to offer some answers. Obviously, this was a sign, to me, so I joined the church. Ultimately, that church didn’t suit me, and I fell away pretty quickly. I liked the singing, morality and spirituality, but found little in common with the church people or rituals.
One night years later, after I had moved to Denver, I drove west on Highway 285 into the mountains. There, hovering above the horizon, was the cross of stars I had seen years earlier. It was lights, not stars, and was high on a mountain, not in the sky. Of course, it was a religious symbol someone had laid out on a mountain. No inherent magic, just something real that filled me with awe and wonder way back then.
And, that’s okay with me. Finding an answer to a given mystery doesn’t turn me off to mysteries, but makes me eager to find the next ones. I don’t consider life a trial, but a puzzle. Something to be solved. You have to figure out how to work it; what the key is; how to break the code. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t, and you have to keep trying or find a way around the problem. The mystery, the magic, is that you believe there is an answer, and that you believe enough in yourself to know that you will find it someday.
I still pick up pennies on the ground. That day years ago when I didn’t, my team went on to win the game. However, in the third quarter I got blindsided covering a punt, and spent eight weeks in a cast after knee surgery.
Any connection with the penny on the ground? Probably not, but why risk it?