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COLUMN

The Broken Mirror

Veena Thomas

I broke a mirror this past Friday the Thirteenth. Luckily for me, I’m not at all superstitious. I maintain that acting supremely confident in the worthlessness of superstitions (ie, showing those evil spirits who’s boss) is more than enough to ward off any bad luck which may otherwise be incurred. Luckily for me, my theory appears to work, or I would really be in trouble. Breaking a mirror, and on Friday the Thirteenth, no less? I didn’t even know what would happen to me. Is it like receiving a traffic violation during construction, when all fines are doubled? Would I have received fourteen years of bad luck instead of merely the requisite seven?

Superstitions are a strange, eclectic collection of rituals designed to either assuage the nebulous luck spirits into smiling upon you favorably, or avoid damning you straight to hell (no passing Go, no collecting $200). Why do people allow their lives to be controlled, even subtly, by such seemingly nonsensical superstitions? Undoubtedly, they are firmly rooted in American folklore, and their persistence has something to say about the human psyche. Let’s examine a few of them.

First of all, why Friday the Thirteenth? The number thirteen has long been viewed as being unlucky. However, every 18.01 student worth his salt knows that a number is just a number, like any other number. (Except of course, e i; since that equals negative one, that’s just cool).

There’s no apparent reason for the number thirteen to be unluckier than any other number. And why Friday? Somehow Friday the Thirteenth is reputedly unluckier than Tuesday the Thirteenth, or Friday the Fourteenth.

How about a rabbit’s foot as a good luck charm? Think about it. Why on earth should carrying around the foot of a rabbit bring good luck to those who do so? Indeed, it’s deemed socially acceptable! Anyone who walked around with a rabbit’s head on a keychain, or a cat’s foot, and claimed it was for good luck, would surely be arrested and/or hospitalized. It is a rabbit’s foot, after all. Why should it be the bearer of good luck? Obviously it didn’t bring the rabbit any good luck when it was still attached to his body -- he was killed so some random tourist could walk around with his foot on a keychain.

I’ve never understood why people feel the need to throw pennies into any body of water they see, regardless of size or purpose. Supposedly it, too, brings good luck. Yet walk through any public park, and examine the fountains -- the bottoms are simply covered with a layer of pennies thrown in by people at whim.

Undoubtedly by this point some public fountains are designed for such activities -- the money is collected on a regular basis and is donated to charity. How about other, non-public areas? What is it about a beautiful, pristine body of water that makes someone say, “Wow, that’s pretty -- I think I’ll throw all of my spare change into it!” Waterfalls, ponds, puddles, birdbaths -- all have been the victims of this superstition.

Interestingly enough, this tradition has spread to more than just bodies of water. When I visited Plymouth Rock several years back, dozens of people were attempting to pitch their pennies up top. Surely that’s not what the Pilgrims had in mind hundreds of years ago. Why is anyone literally throwing away their money anyway? Admittedly, a penny is small change, yet it’s still legal tender in all fifty states. Lest you think I’m a penny aficionado, I hate pennies enough to have written an entire column on them [“Pennies From Hell,” February 26, 1999], but it’s still my money, and I’m not about to throw my hard-earned penny into the nearest puddle.

Don’t get me wrong; I can kind of see the point of some superstitions, but they are few and far between. If you walk underneath a ladder, and it falls on you, you’ll probably receive more than a few broken bones in addition to your seven years of bad luck. Maybe, of course, you won’t be able to move for the next seven years, which would be very bad luck indeed.

The use of four-leaf clovers as good luck charms also makes sense. Considering how rare they are, if you can find one, you’re pretty damn lucky. But how about the bad luck penalty involved for breaking a mirror? Sure, it’s no picnic to clean up all of that broken glass, but the only really bad thing I can see in my future is a very awkward walk back from the Kendall Coop dragging a new full-length mirror.

Do superstitions really cause bad luck? I’ll let you know in seven years. Come find me -- I’ll be the one clutching a rabbit’s foot in each hand, throwing pennies into a fountain. I just might have had a change of heart by then. After breaking a mirror on Friday the Thirteenth, I’ll need all the luck I can get.