On this Friday the 13th, triskaidekaphobics, people with a fear of this number, can be genuinely immobilized by the state of alarm this cardinal number provokes in them. One British psychologist, Richard Wiseman, found in a 2003 survey reported in the National Geographic magazine that a quarter of his interviewees associated the number with bad luck.
The trepidation around this digit has been attributed to a whole whack of ancient myths which has, though, real results. Hundreds of millions of dollars in lost income from people reluctant to go about their normal business has been imputed to this superstition in the United States alone. Over the Easter long weekend I stayed at a 40-something-floor hotel in downtown Vancouver, which indeed omitted the number from the button selection on their elevator panel. Did that really fool anyone staying on the now renumbered 14th floor?
While the number 13 has no hold over me, I have indeed experienced real fear, though, at sometime during every stage of my life. In Grade 3, I remember seeing my mother immobilized by pain. Carrying laundry or going about some other routine daily task long lost to my memory now, she somehow twisted her back. The pain crumbled her to the stairs.
With the central figure in our young lives wracked by pain, my siblings and I were truly frightened. We didn’t know what to do or how to help. Calmly she gave us the needed instructions and reassurance that all would be OK. A phone call to our father had him rushing home from work to her aid. Our parents lifted us out of fear.
Teen years presented me with those same gut-wrenching, fear-filled leaps into the unknown that can face all of us in our development towards adulthood. Shaken out of complacency by challenging teachers and role models I could go places I never imagined going before. Ghettos and foreign lands, previous blank spots in personal universe in part because of fear but also prejudice, became known, familiar places even new spiritual homelands.
Unanswered questions forced me to further examine the reality of violence, poverty and injustice in my rapidly expanding world. I could confront my fears to do so because I had solid, grounded mentors. People like Virgil Border, head of the local office of the National Conference of Christians and Jews in St. Louis, Missouri, knew from his own experience how to deepen a young college student’s awareness and commitment. Virgil Border had started, with two other civil rights pioneers like him, an interracial youth group in the late 1940s breaking through high social barriers and entrenched taboos in the very segregated city of that era. He handed that youth group over to me for a few years in the late 1960s while providing the moral and financial resources I needed to continue the journey he had begun.
Now, in a very different phase of my life, other fears threaten to take hold of me. Our world appears out of control as it races towards a confrontation with all manner of environmental and socio-political calamities. The recent macabre celebration last week of the death of one man, one named enemy, masks deep systemic flaws in a very broken system. At best a Pyrrhic victory considering the wars wrongly engendered in response to Bin Laden’s terrorist acts, the world dangerously teeters. How will we find our way towards a just, environmentally sustainable world?
I must believe we can. If I have learned anything it is that the best way to alleviate fear is to face it. The way we offer hope to the generations coming behind us is to act. We must act in anyway we can to begin the process of transforming our world from the Yukon up. This is the way we can really help overcome our children’s and grandchild’s fear of the future.
Today is the only Friday the 13th we have this year but watch out next year we have three!
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact email@example.com.