Discover more from Just Enough to Get Me in Trouble
Can't stop not believing
but maybe I should start
Baseball players are known for their odd superstitions. There was a guy on my high school team who wouldn’t wash his jock strap until he made an error. In the movie Major League, there was a character who had to keep a voodoo doll named Jobu happy with rum and tobacco. That was an exaggeration for comedic effect, but not too far off from reality for some players.
I would do smaller—less intense and gross—things. When I walked onto the field, I would step over the chalk foul line, and I’d step on it when I walked off the field. Before throwing a pitch, I would do everything the same way each time—I’d hold the seams on the ball in my glove a certain way, I’d position my feet on the pitching rubber with my right foot first, etc.
Baseball was my obsession for 13 years, up until the end of high school. I was a solid player, and one of the better pitchers in the league, despite being a scrawny, lanky guy without much velocity on my fastball. I made up for my lack of blazing speed with my ability to paint the corners of the plate consistently and my arsenal of junkball pitches like a knuckle curveball.
When I was a high school senior, I pitched a no-hitter once and a one-hitter another time. I’m still bitter about the one-hitter. The batter hit a weak, dribbling groundball to our shortstop who charged forward, snatched it up with his bare hand, and fired it off to first base, resulting in a close play as the batter sprinted down the line. The umpire called him safe, which meant it was ruled as a hit. But he called it wrong. This isn’t just my opinion—even he admitted he might’ve made a mistake to our first-base coach during the next half-inning. I was upset about the call, and lost no-hitter, of course. But I never once thought my bad luck could be attributed to not stepping on the foul line correctly, or something similar.
We all have our particular way of doing stuff, especially when it’s stuff we do often. Maybe you always put your right shoe on first. Maybe you always use the same burner to warm your tea kettle. Maybe you always fill your daughter’s meds the same way each time. These things feel more like routines or rituals rather than superstitions, insofar as they’re not cosmically tied to some unknown outcome in the future. In other words, you don’t believe that you have to do these things or else terrible things will happen.
Maybe you try not to do the more stereotypically superstitious things like step on a crack in the pavement, walk underneath a ladder, or break a mirror. (side note: does a black mirror count?) But still, I’m guessing you don’t think that your career will be ruined if you don’t knock on wood, or whatever.
I don’t think my daughter Em developed cerebral palsy because of something I did or didn’t do in my past—it was just a freak, and unlucky, occurrence that caused the lack of blood and oxygen to her brain for a period of time during her birth.
All this is to say, I don’t ascribe to the oft-repeated refrain that things happen for a reason.
There’s some evidence to suggest that those with stronger religious beliefs are more inclined to be superstitious. Perhaps none of this is landing with those of you who are religious, which is fine (if that describes you, I’m curious to hear from you in the comments).
I grew up in a household without much in the way of religion, beyond the basics like celebrating Christmas and Easter. But even those were more driven by longstanding family traditions, with a dash of consumerism thrown in there, rather than any strong religious beliefs my parents held. It wasn’t that my family was anti-religion or militant atheists. Religion just didn’t come up in conversation very often.
One year, when I was probably around 10 years old, my parents sent my brother and me to a summer camp in the Santa Cruz mountains. I can’t remember why we went. I’m guessing one of our friends was going and we wanted to tag along. What we didn’t realize until we got there was that it was a Christian camp—with daily bible study hours and everything. The camp counselor assigned to my cabin was a former cocaine addict, turned born-again Christian. Meanwhile, neither my brother or I had ever cracked open a bible. I felt out of place and it was one of the more awkward weeks of my preteen life. But I did get to shoot a rifle, which was cool.
There were other instances of being exposed to religious groups: a scavenger hunt and sleepover at a church with a friend, a neighbor who led a Christian youth group who also happened to play golf and attempted to recruit me during a round the one time we played together.
Despite being exposed to various religious people and groups, the concept of religion never clicked for me. It still hasn’t to this day. I’ve always found it tough to believe in something I can’t touch and can’t be proven definitively in a peer-reviewed study.
And while I spent many years devouring atheistic writing from the likes of Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins, I’ve softened my views more recently. I recognize that there’s some universal wisdom in texts like the bible, even if I think they’re flawed in many ways and shouldn’t be viewed as accurate books of history.
I also think that those who believe in a particular religion, or even more fringe stuff, should be allowed to believe in whatever they want. And I hope in return that I’m also allowed to believe in basically nothing—beyond maybe the power of the human mind—without being ostracized or taken on as a pet conversion project. Or, as Hitchens once wrote more succinctly, “I will continue to do this (i.e. honor other people’s right to their religious beliefs) without insisting on the polite reciprocal condition—which is that they in turn leave me alone.”
And yet, part of me wishes I could suspend my disbelief sometimes. The idea of letting go of my intellectual tendencies sounds blissful—like turning off my brain for a bit every once in a while.
The closest I’ve felt to switching off the intellectual thinking part of my brain has been during the somatic and emotions-based coaching I’ve received from Andrew Thomas at Foster. He’s great at challenging me to get into my body and share my felt experience by moving from using “I feel like” to simple “I feel” phrases. I find it incredibly difficult and uncomfortable to say “I feel frustrated” and leave it at that, instead of going into some long winding explanation about what’s causing my frustration. It’s hard to put my faith in what my body is trying to tell me. It’s so much easier to rationalize and explain away the tension in my shoulders or the occasional migraines I get.
These feelings and sensations aren’t part of some complex equation I need to figure out. I just need to experience them, without judgment. But as I get more and more attuned, there’s also unspoken wisdom and enlightenment in those signals. I just have to believe in them.
This piece is my submission for the latest Symposium theme from the . This month’s theme is “superstition.”
If you liked this piece, could you please let me know by giving the heart button a tap?