I always claim I’m not a superstitious person.
Oh, I have a few rituals, especially when it comes to watching sports. When my Auburn Tigers play for the national championship tomorrow evening, I’ll be in the same chair in the den where I’ve watched all their televised games this year. Why shake things up by sitting on the couch when the chair has worked so well so far? And every time Felix Hernandez of the Mariners flirts with a no-hitter, I studiously observe the rules about not actually SAYING “no-hitter.” The closest I’ve come is to hint that my husband might want to come downstairs and watch the game, because Felix is pitching REALLY WELL. The fact that so far the closest Felix has come is a couple of one-hitters surely isn’t because the superstition is meaningless, but because of all those OTHER people talking about it openly.
Do I really believe my choice of chair impacts Cam Newton’s passing efficiency or my avoidance of “no-hitter” actually makes King Felix’s curve ball any tougher to hit? No, not really. My rituals just make me feel like a tiny bit of a participant in my teams’ success.
But when I had a run of bad days right around Jan. 1, which also happens to be my birthday, I found myself thinking, “This just doesn’t seem like a good sign. Does this mean 2011 is going to be all about being kinda sick and wrestling with minor but annoying personal setbacks and bureaucratic glitches?” At the time it didn’t even occur to me that I never would’ve taken the same events in, say, mid-May, as a sign the next 365 days were going to be bad ones.
You’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with history. I’m getting there, I promise. Eventually I got over my bad cold and moved past the setbacks and glitches, but I still had a niggling feeling that 2011 was just NOT looking all that good for me.
Then last week I was reading Napoleon: The Final Verdict as part of a research reading challenge I set myself. One of the authors mentioned how Napoleon was fond of omens, e.g. liking to fight a battle on the anniversary of a previous victory. I thought, “That’s incredible, that a man as intelligent and rational as Napoleon could at the same time be so superstitious and illogical.”
Then a voice in the back of my head, one that sounded a little like I imagine Napoleon must have sounded said, “What’s that? Aren’t you the one who’s been covered in gloom because you weren’t happy on your birthday/New Year’s Day, even though you too consider yourself intelligent and rational?”
OK. Imaginary Napoleon has a point. 2011 may be good or bad, but it hasn’t been determined already by a few annoying days in early January. And every once in awhile the lessons history teaches me aren’t the ones I expect to learn.
What about you? What unexpected lessons have you learned from history? And what are your superstitions?
Susanna Fraser writes Regency romance with a focus on the Napoleonic Wars. The Sergeant's Lady is available now from Carina press, and its prequel, A Marriage of Inconvenience, will be released April 11.