This week welcomes the third Friday the 13th of 2015, the most that can occur in a one year period, and although I like to think I'm not particularly superstitious, my overactive imagination has always observed that something of great importance always seems to happen on that date – case in point, the birth of my first son. The fact that it was also a full-moon just added to the awesomeness of it all.
As I drove home from the office recently peering through the windshield that bears a large crack courtesy of an encounter with a flying rock over three years ago on a Friday the 13th in January, my eye also caught the dangling St. Christopher medal that hangs from my rear view mirror as I pondered the differences between superstition and religious faith.
Despite the fact that I'm not a practicing Catholic, I once had an epiphany on an airplane involving St. Christopher and a cigarette. I had just quit smoking and was fidgeting in my rear aisle seat, waiting on the tarmac at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. I'm not a good flyer at the best of times but this particular flight was delayed, and after two weeks with a difficult customer at a nuclear plant out in the middle of Nowhere, Texas, I was aching to get home and see my family. The flight attendant's assurances that everything would be "just fahnnn" did little to assuage my fears. My tension was exacerbated, along with my need for a cigarette, as the attendants were trying to entice passengers to give up their seats on the overbooked flight, repeatedly upping the ante by offering travel vouchers.
While I began my usual mental preparation and self-calming measures that precede my every flight experience, I remembered from my childhood how my mom, a good Catholic, would make a deal with one of the saints whenever she needed something. I knew from an early age that St. Christopher was the patron saint of travellers, St. Anthony took care of lost objects, and St. Jude, being the patron saint of desperate and hopeless causes, was the one you turned to when all else failed. I have vivid memories of my mother looking for something in the house and invoking St. Anthony's intervention. "C'mon Tony,” she'd say. "I could use a little help here.”
It was with this memory in mind that I started making deals with St. Christopher, asking him to get me home safely on this flight that was now already an hour behind schedule. "C'mon Chris,” I said in my head, chewing a fingernail and sweating profusely. "Get me home okay and I'll never smoke another cigarette.”
After the overbooking dust had settled, the plane finally took off and I was able to de-stress enough to eat, and actually enjoy, the inflight meal and strike up a conversation with the gentleman sitting next to me who was headed to Montreal for a business meeting.
Of course the flight was "just fahnnn" and we landed without incident at Trudeau International Airport on that fine October evening over a decade ago.
As the plane taxied to the gate, I mentally chastised myself for engaging in a silly and superstitious pact with such a nebulous concept as patron saints.
I gathered up my belongings and turned to my seatmate, wishing him a pleasant stay in Montreal.
"It was nice talking to you,” I said, extending my hand. "By the way, my name is Carmen.”
I felt the blood drain out of my face as he held out his hand in turn, saying, “I'm Chris.”
I haven't smoked a cigarette since.
Revisited. The original version of this column was initially published July 19, 2012