With the turning of a new century we enter a unique period of the calendar – one where, every thirteen months, there are two brief moments in time that are represented by six repeating numbers. Thirteen months ago it was 2:12 and 12 seconds AM/PM on February 12, 2012. Thirteen months from now the moment will occur at 4:14 and 14 second AM/PM on April 14, 2014.
But today, at the time this blog was posted, 3:13 and 13 seconds PM on March 13, 2013 the two brief moments have special meaning.
Triskaidekaphobia, a word which was coined in 1911, defines the superstitious fear of the number thirteen. Sufferers of triskaidekaphobia try to avoid bad luck by keeping away from anything numbered or labeled thirteen. As a result, companies and manufacturers use another way of numbering or labeling to avoid it, with hotels and tall buildings being conspicuous examples (no thirteenth floor). It’s considered to be unlucky to have thirteen guests at a table, and Friday the 13th has spawned a franchise of movies concerning it’s severe unluck.
There are a number of theories behind the cause of the association between thirteen and bad luck.
At the last supper, there were thirteen people around the table, counting Christ and the twelve apostles. Tradition holds that there were thirteen steps leading up to any gallows.
In 1882, looking toward a new century of modernity and fact, “The Thirteen Club” founder, Civil War Captain William Fowler, invited friends to dinner on the thirteenth of the month, at thirteen minutes past the hour. Over the years, the club continued to flout tradition commonly seating thirteen members at the table and decorating the room with open umbrellas (indoors), breaking glass and mirrors with abandon, and spilling salt on the table without tossing it over their shoulders. In its prime, the club boasted more U.S. Presidents among its membership than Yale’s secretive Skull and Bones, with Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and Chester A. Arthur number among its ranks. It is perhaps worth noting that two of these presidents suffered assassination attempts, the effort against McKinley being fatal – and two of them, Roosevelt and Arthur, only assumed the presidency after assassinations. Perhaps they did less to debunk the superstition than they’d hoped.
There are instances where the number thirteen carries positive meaning. In Judaism, thirteen signifies the age at which a boy or girl matures and becomes a Bar Mitzvah, i.e., a full member of the Jewish faith.
Wilt Chamberlain, Dan Marino and Alex Rodriguez have all worn the number thirteen in their illustrius sporting careers.
And, of course, in Philadelphia we are reminded of the 13 original colonies, and the 13 stripes that honor them on our American flag.
Triskaidekaphobia is an interesting phenomenon, as is any particularly strong superstition. I understand serendipity, the happy accident or special, wonderful surprise. It is worth noting though that antonyms of serendipity are “volition” and “choice.” So the opposite of luck (good or bad!) is a choice.
As an educator, I believe we make the choices that create our impact on the world and the future we desire. Successful students, business leaders and individuals are ones that make their own opportunity, not ones subject to the fancies and follies of supersition. At PhilaU, our students are encouraged to embrace the “product called me” mentality. We strive to educate in a manner that empowers a student to become a leader in the profession of their passion. It’s not about superstition. It’s about commitment to learning, excellence and action. In the end, I believe that holds more power than a little good luck.
I wish you a happy, and lucky, 3/13/13 3:13.