Well, we might as well get it out in the open – “triskaidekaphobia” has once again reared its ugly head. The official name for the fear of the number 13 has come to us. We don’t put 13th floors on high-rises, and loads of other fears and superstitions. Actually, the word we need to use on this day is “paraskevidekatriaphobia.” It breaks down to “paraskevi” (Friday), “dekatreis” (thirteen) and of course, “phobia” (fear). More than any number, this names the fear of Friday the 13th. How could a month that always starts out so nice and neat, with the first of the month landing on a Sunday, become such a feared 24-hour period. It’s estimated that 17-21 million Americans have a true fear of this day, and will actually avoid a number of activities that may place them in danger somehow.
Actually, the fear of Friday the 13th is a relatively new phenomenon, arising really in the early 20th century. Much earlier, of course, the Romans feared the middle day of each month – the ides, often coming on the 15th, and other cultures, like Latin cultures, fear Tuesday the 13th. But not us Americans – we stick to what scares us, and Friday the 13th is it.
You see, the number 12 is such a nice number. There were 12 disciples Jesus called to help him. There were 12 tribes of Israel, 12 sons of Jacob. There are 12 days of the season of Christmas. However, 13 people attended the Last Supper – Jesus and the 12 disciples – and one of them betrayed the Lord, and one denied him. That shoots number 13 right in the foot, for sure.
“I’m not superstitious, but…” is the way many sentences start, and end up naming the thing you or I happen to be a bit on edge about: black cats, ladders, broken mirrors, stepping on a crack, knocking on wood, or saying “bless you” when someone sneezes and hundreds of other phenomena that seem to have control over a huge amount of human behavior. The word “superstition” is of course Latin, meaning “to stand over in awe.” As we look at something out there in front of us, for some reason, it has the power to change what we do, or don’t do. It’s comes close to a religious belief, but it’s based not on faith, but fear.
We will often link things that are completely separate, and claim that one thing caused the other. I walked under the ladder, and that’s why I didn’t get the job. I stepped on a crack, and now my mother’s back is broken (not really, because I’m too careful for that to happen!). Superstitions, again, arise out of fear or anxiety, and those are such powerfully negative emotions that we feel almost forced to obey them, again, for fear that in disobedience, we will be punished somehow.
Isn’t that silly? Sort of. It truly is amazing when we begin to think about patterns of behavior and habits that fairly well control us, and sometimes we don’t even realize we are following that lead. Which shoe do you put on first in the morning? I would nearly swear that it is the same side – left or right – every time. I’m a left -footer. In fact, in those odd times when we give the nod to the other foot, we almost have to apologize to the preferred foot, and tell them it was just a mistake… My dad, when brushing his teeth, when he was done, would rinse out the toothbrush, and then tap it three times on the sink to knock the excess water out. Not two times, not four – three.
Sometimes the things we do are simply habits, and they seem to make sense in our daily or regular rituals. They are comfortable patterns of behavior that occur, often so we don’t have to even think about them – we end up thinking about other things, and don’t even realize we have done what we’ve done. When I get in the car, my seatbelt goes on. When I turn the car off and get out, the last thing I do is lock the door. I don’t remember doing it, but it is a pattern that controls me.
However, when I act out of fear, or when I am keenly alert about doing something because deep within me, I’m almost scared, and certainly anxious about doing otherwise, then old superstition grabs hold, and keeps me prisoner. On the far end of human behavior, some poor folks are mentally ill enough that those superstitions become paranoia. I have to say, however, that it is only a matter of degrees that separates them from our way of having to do things.
It’s also true that when the culture or the season creates a higher anxiety or worry or fear about things in general – like a stupid pandemic, and death counts rising – the superstitions gain more power, and dictate even more deeply our behaviors. “I can’t do that, because…” becomes the fence or barrier I build to hopefully keep me from the consequences of something that should not control me in the first place.
What I mean when I talk about living an intentional life is that the person lives thoughtfully, and not fearfully. Granted, if a rattlesnake is two feet away, coiled and looking to strike, that’s a reasonable fear! But a thoughtful mind can differentiate between what is reasonable, and just what grabs us in the dark of our fearful minds.
I’m not saying you have to live bravely, or even risk things that are unnecessary – but you can live deliberately, and with the strength to set aside needless fear and anxiety. You know that comes as well from trusting in a greater power to lead and direct you – as you place faith in God, and turn over the anxiety and fear to God instead of a threatening universe, you can receive the ability to get up and do what needs to be done, without fear of a particular numbered day of the week.
I’ve made my choice. My life has too many opportunities to cower in the face of things that should not have power over me. No longer. This is the day the Lord has made – even Friday the 13…
Word for the day: fedifragous. Pronounced fed-uh-FRAG-us. It is created out of two fairly common used Latin words. Fed, or foed means “treaty” or pact or alliance. From this word, we get federal, and federation – both entities that are formed out of an agreement. Frangere, or fractus, means “to break,” as in a fracture. Fedifragous is a term normally used for large actions – it is the breaking of a treaty, or undermining an alliance. The word many dictionaries use to define our word is “perfidious,” which really means “treacherous.”
All we have in our world between nations or powers is trust. When that trust, that treaty is broken by the treacherous actions of one side or the other, fedifragous results come into play. Although rarer, the word can also apply to simpler human relationships. Adultery is a fedifragous behavior, because it undermines the important “treaty” that exists in a marriage. I expect, however, if it came to that, you probably won’t be hunting for that word…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.