My wife believes in Airborne.
I don't know why. It's one of the most peculiar things about her. Before Covid, when getting sick was much less life-threatening, sometimes (and I'll explain the "sometimes" in a bit), when we were around someone with the flu or a cold, it was straight to the kitchen, two glasses of water, and Airborne effervescent tablets. This behavior hasn't changed with Covid. I've taken four tablets in the last two days.
And now to explain the "sometimes" bit. This ritual only seems to happen when we have a planned trip coming up or a big event that could potentially be spoiled by us having a cold. I used to give her the largest of tantrums. Just dig my heels in and...
"No, this shit doesn't work."
"It's not scientifically proven."
"It's fucking disgusting."
And I would never win. Not ever. And over the years, I've found myself repeatedly curious about why she's so firm about fucking Airborne and then I realized something.
We do things to salve the pain of our superstitions all the time. Some people literally knock on wood or throw salt over their shoulder or walk down the sidewalk in such a way as to not step on a crack. My grandmother forgot to bring towels one summer afternoon on our way to the crick and after we went back to her house to get them, I watched from the cab of the truck as she sat down on her front porch and counted to a hundred.
A lot of people pray.
It's been a rough year. For me, and for many people I know and love. Cancer of the brain. Cancer of the breast. Herniated discs. Surgeries. Loss of jobs. Hospital visits. And every time something happened this year, I found myself reaching for old patterns of survival, prayer being one of them.
I don't know who the fuck I'm praying to, but it's sure as shit not the Christians' god. I'm not even sure if my prayer is meant for any god at all. What is it then, if not prayer? Intention to the universe?
One of my favorite poems for over twenty years is Andrew Hudgins' Praying Drunk. I read it back in college when my poetry professor told me that my writing bore some resemblance to Hudgins' work. I cried the first time I read the poem. I cry almost every time I read it. And I think, after all these years, this poem may be my touchstone for whenever I have an existential crisis (which is more often than you might think). I read it like some people rub a worry stone. Because I guess I want to believe that some power over the universe gives a shit about us. And maybe it's possible. But that poem is my incantation to almost believe it. Even if I don't. Even if I can't. I still find myself whispering some part of this...
...I want a lot of money and a woman.
And, also, I want vanishing cream. You know—
a character like Popeye rubs it on
and disappears. Although you see right through him,
he’s there. He chuckles, stumbles into things,
and smoke that’s clearly visible escapes
from his invisible pipe. It makes me think,
sometimes, of you. What makes me think of me
is the poor jerk who wanders out on air
and then looks down. Below his feet, he sees
eternity, and suddenly his shoes
no longer work on nothingness, and down
he goes. As I fall past, remember me.
I have a lot of people praying for me. People who make their intentions known to the universe, to their god. They mention me by name. They prayed when I couldn't walk from a herniated disc. They pray that I will find my way back to God. My father would love to see my reconversion. I'm sure he prays for it. It's all...so very heartwarming, now that I live some distance from it. Like all things, prayer can be traumatic and leave people with traumatic experiences. I've had to do a lot of work around that.
Superstitions are weird. And things we do to deal with our superstitions are stranger still. We live in a universe of chaos and entropy and random shit happening all the time, it's almost next to impossible not to believe in luck or ritual or god. We just want things to be ok and we're willing to do just about anything to turn the odds in our favor. Make any sacrifice. Pay any price. Just-answer-this-one-prayer-and-I'll-never-ask-for-anything-else-sort-of-thing.
In this case, my wife just wants to be with her family for Christmas. So I take the Airborne. I do the ritual.