No escape from the underlying fear

David Loughrey does not believe in God, because he is not superstitious. Well, maybe he is, just a little bit.

I think there should be a scientific experiment on the value of prayer.

It would be a double-blind trial with various groups praying to various deities for quantifiable outcomes.

There would, of course, be control groups who would also pray, or not pray, to an unnamed God or Gods for both measurable and unmeasurable deliverables.

The results would be collated on an enormous database, from which a complex performance metric would be developed to ascertain each prayer group's behaviour, activities, performance and outcomes.

From there a hypothesis would be developed and tested, then tested again, before a paper was published in a respectable academic journal.

There is no doubt that it would show prayer doesn't work any better than a placebo, and that taking blue sugar pills would produce exactly the same result as a good long prayer.

I have no doubt of this outcome, because I don't believe in God, mainly because I'm not superstitious, and don't believe in supernatural or irrational things.

Like God.

I laugh at the very idea, which I consider beyond ridiculous.

I'm not superstitious; that would be stupid.

Well, maybe sometimes I am.

A little, anyway.

They are not big superstitions; they are more small amusing ones.

For instance, when crossing the road I always like to step on to the footpath on the other side using my left foot.

Actually, it's not so much that I like to step on to the footpath with my left foot, it's more that I must do so, lest some small but unpleasant thing happens to me, perhaps a minor but irritating piece of bad luck, like a stubbed toe or one of those loose pieces of skin on the edge of your nail you pick at and pull at until it tears free and you are left with a tiny but painful wound.

I don't really step on to the footpath either; it's more of a leap with a small pirouette, which I feel I absolutely must do for the same reasons.

There is also this thing with the cracks in the footpath, and I feel I should admit to this.

It's not a big thing, but if I stand on one crack, I have to stand on another to even things up.

That's all fine until I find a third, because then I have to step on a fourth, and so on, because, well, I guess I worry that a small but unpleasant thing might happen to me, perhaps a minor but irritating piece of bad luck, or perhaps, if I miss a crack or get distracted, something much, much worse might happen, like a serious illness or some form of social mortification, like arriving at work wearing nothing below the waist after a tragic dressing mishap.

After left-foot-stepping and performing a host of small pirouettes across Dunedin, and dealing with the little matter of crack balancing, it's nice to get home, where I can be not superstitious without being bothered by anyone.

Actually, and I have to be honest about this, there is one little thing at home that I guess might fall under the general umbrella of superstition.

If I leave the house by one door, perhaps for an activity like taking the compost to the compost heap or putting the recycling out or maybe enjoying a beautiful Dunedin sunrise from my deck, I do have go back into the house by the same door.

It's nothing really, and I do make a joke of it. However, there is an underlying fear that something deeply unpleasant might happen to me, like the death of a loved one, or catching one of those really nasty skin-eating diseases that infects the flesh and slowly devours you until you are nothing but a resentful skeleton.

Or something worse.

Sometimes I go in and out of the same door a few times - well, maybe 30 or 40 times - to build up an immunity to bad luck.

There is one other thing, I suppose.

Sometimes I leave the house, making sure on the way I memorise which door I left through so I can return the same way, to hang out the washing on the washing line.

I like to hang out the washing; it's somehow strangely calming.

Well, it's strangely calming if you do it right.

When I hang up a piece of clothing that requires two pegs, perhaps a T-shirt or a more substantial pair of underpants, I always feel I need to use the same coloured pegs.

Blue must go with blue, red with red and the like.

It's not just the same colour, to be strictly accurate about the matter; the pegs also have to be of the same make.

If four pegs are required for a larger piece of material, perhaps a sheet or an extremely substantial pair of underpants, the pegs must be attached in a symmetrical way.

If there are four in a row, say, one cannot have blue-blue-yellow-yellow, they must be blue-yellow-yellow-blue, or yellow-blue-blue-yellow.

There are other symmetry issues; if I bang one foot on a step walking back to the house to go through the door I left from, I have to bang the other foot as well to even things up.

If I trip a little on one foot, I have to trip a little on the other.

If I knock my elbow on the balustrade I have to knock my other elbow on it too, or else things aren't right.

They are not right at all.

I'm not sure why.

I'm not sure why, but it seems to relate to some sort of nameless fear.

I'm not sure what the fear is, and I often laugh at the very thought any of these behaviours could lead to anything at all, but somehow I find myself repeating them over and over again lest some sort of terrible and tragic accident occurs, in case by not performing one of them I kick off a whole series of fearsome, bleakly horrendous consequences that don't just wreak merry havoc on my own life, but on the whole of humankind, laying waste to the mountains of the earth, devouring the seas and consigning the souls of mankind to the torments of Satan himself.

So yes, if I was to be very honest with you, I am a little superstitious.

I just pray those things will never happen.



Left foot? What a giveaway, eh? eh? Beware the Reformation.

Pirouette Dunedin was started by Anna Chinn and Marcel Prousts of Wellington, doing 'Swann's Way' from 'Recherche a temps perdu'.

Contemplative behaviour is quiet reflection. Physiologically, it lowers the heart rate. Meditation is the actual purpose of prayer, notably the Rosary.

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