I am not superstitious at all. I think superstitions are silly. I make a point of walking under ladders and crossing the paths of black cats just to show my disregard for superstition.
But there is one superstition that’s clung to me for years and that’s the above counting rhyme about crows. I’m not particularly worried about anything beyond the first line — I’ve already got a girl and a boy, and it’s going to take more than crows to get me to have any more kids. I’m not particularly concerned about silver or gold, and as a writer I’m always in favour of a tale that’s never been told, so if I see groups of crows I don’t bother counting them or worrying about how many there are.
But one crow? Has always made me nervous. Whenever I see one crow I think “One for sorrow,” and then I look around for a second so I can claim there were really two crows and it was Two for Joy. This is about 98% joking and 2% deep-seated irrational atavistic fear that a single crow is somehow able to predict upcoming sorrow for me. I’m not alone in this superstition: I shared my crow-fear once on Facebook and although there were several people who’d never even heard of the crow rhyme, I also heard of someone who makes an X with their thumb to cross out sorrow whenever they see a single crow, and someone else who says “Hello Mr. Crow, where’s your friend?” whenever they see one crow, on the assumption you can trick fate into thinking there were really two crows. Usually, I find, if you look hard enough you’ll see a second crow nearby and I can convince myself that good things are ahead.
Funny thing: ever since my mom died I keep seeing single crows everywhere. One crow in a tree. One crow on a telephone wire. One crow staring at me from the sidewalk as I drive home. There is a single crow walking through the rain-soaked grass outside my office window as I type this. One for sorrow.
Whenever I see them now I nod and think, “That’s right, one for sorrow. And I’m sad. How appropriate.”
Somehow, I’ve gone from seeing the crows as predictive to seeing them as descriptive. The single crow — one for sorrow — is not predicting a terrible sad thing that will happen in the future. A terrible sad thing has already happened, and the crow is reminding me of what I feel. Sorrow.
If I’ve learned one thing of value as adult, it’s this: it’s OK to feel what you’re feeling right now. Feeling sad or mad or afraid is not wrong. Feelings are responses to our circumstances. Bad feelings don’t need to be papered over with good ones.
This has been a hard lesson for me, ironically because I’m basically a happy and positive person and I’ve been fortunate enough to lead a relatively easy and trouble-free life. So when I do feel bad, for a lot of my life I’ve had the feeling that this is something wrong that needs to be fixed. A certainly type of Christianity — the kind that penned the song “You’ll have happiness all the time, wonderful peace of mind, when you’ve found the Lord!” can play into this too — like God needs to immediately fix the problem if I’m not feeling good.
I’m slowly coming to learn (and trying to pass on to my kids, though I have to resist the temptation with them to try to “fix” bad feelings too) that being sad can be a completely appropriate reaction to bad things happening, and it’s OK to feel that sadness– to be right where you are at the moment.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t believe positive thinking is important, or that I don’t recognize that people sometimes get caught in a pattern of negative thinking that hurts them. But have you noticed that negative thought patterns are almost never about feeling what you’re feeling right now? They’re almost always about projecting back into the past or ahead into the future.
Negative thinking says, “I have lost someone I love, and I didn’t have the chance to do/say x, y or z before that person died.” Or, “I have lost someone I love and I will never be happy again.”
Feeling what you feel right now says, “I have lost someone I love, and I miss that person, and I am sad.”
Losing my mom is definitely the saddest thing that’s happened in my life so far. Losing my friend Jamie two years earlier was the saddest thing up till that point. Presumably, human life being what it is, there are more losses ahead, as well as lots more good times. And I’m trying to learn that it’s OK to be sad about the sad things, and happy about the happy things. It’s OK if in the morning I see one crow and in the afternoon I see two. They’re not omens, predicting future joys or sorrows. They’re reminders that right now I am feeling real things and I can experience those feelings and honour them and not try to fix or change them.
It’s OK to feel sad in the middle of a happy family get-together because my mom is not there. It’s OK to jump around and sing and feel happy at a Great Big Sea concert a week after my mother’s death. It’s OK to be where I am at the moment, which is often an odd mixture of happy and sad.
While I was typing this the crow flew away. Maybe he’s gone to find a friend, or maybe he’s going on alone, a single crow for sorrow. Either way, it’s OK.