Superstition and the Q Word

Being superstitious is part of human nature. I think we’re all born somewhat superstitious – some far more than others. If you walk on sidewalks with your head down so as not to step on a crack or you never take the elevator to the 13th floor, in my book, you qualify as someone who is really superstitious.

Baseball players are more superstitious than most. My favorite baseball superstition is when a pitcher is working on a no-hitter late in the game and the announcers are not permitted to say the phrase “no-hitter” while broadcasting for fear that saying it will lead to a player getting a hit. Now that’s hardcore superstition. As silly as it may seem for a broadcaster to ignore the biggest story line of a game, I totally get it and support it.

I don’t have that many superstitions overall. But probably my craziest and most ridiculous is my superstition about Foursquare, the social network where you “check-in” at places so others can see where you are. Well guess what, I always check-in as I’m leaving because, granted it’s VERY UNLIKELY, in case there’s someone looking to assassinate me, they’ll always be one step behind me.

If you defy a superstition, people worry you could “jinx” something.  Basically, cause something bad to happen.  With that in mind, it probably doesn’t surprise you to learn that people at the Red Cross have lots of superstitions. But there’s one in particular I want to highlight. It comes to mind because of what the last few days have been like for us here at the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Wednesday morning 7/24 I recall being in the elevator at our headquarters in Center City with two other people. In the normal routine of asking “How’s it going,” someone used the Q word. Let me tell you, that is a major NO-NO around here.  I’m afraid to even use the word in this blog. (Think Shhh! And you’ll know what the word is.) Almost everyone knows not to use that word. And anyone who doesn’t and mistakenly does use it, is quickly wrapped in gauze and tape from head to toe and made to watch Red Cross training videos from the 1950s on a loop for hours in a small room. (Trust me, I speak from experience, after that, people never make that mistake again.) The damage, however, was already done. It was now only a matter of time.

Just hours after that conversation in the elevator, a fire ripped through a home in Chester, Delaware County. Three children were killed. All fires are horrible, but when three children die, it takes the horror to a new level.  The Red Cross has been at the scene multiple times and meeting with family and members of the community ever since to help as well as promoting fire safety. Incidents like that really take not only a physical toll, but an emotional one as well.

LevittownARCPhillyarrivesonscene_073013Two days later, a massive 4-alarm fire broke out at an apartment complex in Levittown, Bucks County.  More than two dozen Red Cross volunteers and staffers worked most of the night and into the wee hours of the morning helping dozens of people displaced. We were out there again the entire following day helping people with food, clothing, lodging, prescriptions, and other essentials. It was a long and busy 18 hours.

Back of Collapsed houseThen on Monday 7/29, as the Red Cross was participating in an event related to the Levittown fire, a house exploded in South Philly. Several surrounding homes collapsed and an entire neighborhood had to be evacuated. The Red Cross once again had to mobilize quickly to assist dozens of people. We set up an evacuation center, met with more than 50 displaced residents, and helped any way we could. Many of the people that helped in Levittown and Chester also helped in South Philly.

Outside of a hurricane or major weather incident, we don’t see this many high-level disasters during an entire summer, much less over 4 days. It was almost an entire summer’s worth of disasters in less than a week.

Can I blame the use of the Q word during that elevator ride? Yes, I can. I have no factual basis for that conclusion. But this is superstition we’re talking about. It’s bigger than facts. It’s bigger than reason.

In a way the Red Cross is its own worst superstition enemy. That’s because in addition to responding to disasters, we help people prepare for them. We hold workshops, we create mobile phone apps, and we hand out preparedness information every chance we get. We cover you before and after. So if you really think about, if you believe in superstition, preparing for disasters is akin to “asking for it.” Maybe, but that’s the chance we’re willing to take.

All kidding aside, we know unfortunately disasters happen. They are never convenient. They’re rarely ever predictable. We cannot control when they strike, but we can control what we do to get ready. Superstitious or not, you must take the threat of disaster seriously.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to also knock on wood.

1 comment
  1. The last time a responder used the Q word in Greater New York’s Emergency Communications Center, we had two fires within two minutes.

    I could really have used the suggestion about wrapping him in gauze!

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