Snapshots of Superstition

BY Andie Benitez

 

1. I am 5 years old. My tiny feet find their way, tip-toeing one in front of the other, leaping horizontally from one edge of a path to another - anything to avoid stepping on cracks. After all, I’d do anything to save my mother from breaking her back.

2. It is my brother’s birthday. I twirl and twirl noodles into slippery spirals that frustratingly unravel themselves over and over again. I watch my little cousin mercilessly slice through her noodles, as the unease blooms in the middle of my chest. Didn’t these noodles symbolize the celebrant’s long life? I could never stomach the possible implications of cutting noodles, regardless of how ridiculous the link between both factors were. To this day, celebration or not, I refuse to cut my noodles, the feeling of unease permanently grasping onto my anxious thoughts, which thrive off what ifs.

3. My brother proudly exhibits his loot - a prepackaged mamon and several candies he had stuffed his pockets with - offerings from the wake we had just attended. My mother’s eyebrows raise, and our helpers gasp, mockingly informing my brother that taking offerings from funerals means taking the soul of the departed along. My brother, gullible and easily terrified, begins to panic, attempting to throw what was his treasure, moments prior.

4. My family stops at a gas station to buy ice cream that no one really wants.  We feel groggy and weary from the long ride back home from the province, yet we endure the stop anyway. We mock my mother’s insistence on pagpag - the practice of making a stop somewhere else after attending a funeral, in order to deter death from following you home - yet we indulge ourselves in doing it anyway. What is there to lose?

5. It is New Year’s Eve. My family is groggy as we find ourselves stranded in the airport of Japan, a stark contrast from our yearly tradition of firecrackers and karaoke in Bulacan. Instead of the smoke-filled air and mosquitoes buzzing by, we find ourselves being sung to by the chorus of suitcases rolling along humming walk-a-lators, people meekly passing us by. As the minutes approach midnight, I glance at my siblings, and we cheekily share a smile. When the clock strikes twelve, we prepare for take off. And we jump, jump and jump, right in our spots next to the refillable water station, people giving us curious looks as they pass us by. But we continue to bounce - cheesy grins on our faces - as we hold onto the age-old Filipino superstition of a hundred jumps securing our growth in the new year. Somehow, in our tiny group huddle, we had transported ourselves right back home, in each other’s arms.

Superstitions bring comfort to the weary - a sense of control over the inexplicable. Up until now, I had never bothered to realize how my life was quietly speckled with these prevailing remnants of history. To me, they encapsulate the paradoxical hodgepodge of not only my identity, but the Philippines’ as well.

I see it in my Filipino-chinese grandmother, who fervently prays the rosary and wakes up at the crack of dawn to hear mass, yet is the same woman whose stairs follow oro, plata, mata - ensuring that none of our steps are divisible by the number 3, to avoid inviting bad luck and death into our home. I see it in my mother, who insists on seeking refuge in God, yet is similarly the person who is insistent on not directly returning home after a funeral; a pit-stop to make pagpag is a necessity to ensure the spirit does not follow us home. I saw it with my grandfather, the most astute man whose life revolved around thermodynamics and questions of physics, yet was the first person to wear his cotton shirts inside-out, following old wives’ tales, when he found himself lost, circling about.

No one is spared from these ludicrous beliefs. Although they are not overt, they loom quietly in the background, making their appearance during days of significance or the most unusual of events. In fact, learning about these myths is often preceded by a look filled with skepticism, but a reluctant enactment of the superstition anyway, “just in case.” These beliefs have time and time again brought comfort, dispelling the looming cloud of what ifs and bad luck - an attempt at meekly controlling the uncontrollable. It brought people, and continues to bring people, some sense of control: of having a say in preventing or reversing anything that could possibly go wrong. And in this way, whether this faux sense of comfort brings about legitimate results or not, the feeling of being able to carefully maneuver out of, or swerve any possible rut one may find themselves in, is perhaps the reason superstitions have - and will continue to - prevail.