Goatview Farm - The Saint Report www.goatview.com

July 25

Saints o' the Day include, but are not limited to, Saint Christopher and Saint James the Great (patron saint of Spain, pilgrims, laborers and furriers). Saint Christopher was once the official patron saint of travelers (also archers, market carriers, fullers, and fruit dealers), especially motorists and sailors, but was given the heave-ho by the Holy See in 1969. (He was also the saint to be invoked against storm, hail, toothaches and impenitence at death.)

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Andrea Doria

Today is the anniversary of the sinking of the unsinkable* Andrea Doria by the Swedish liner Stockholm, which happened on July 25, 1956, in spite of the fact that it was Saint Christopher's feast day. The survivors of this event, and there were plenty since the collision occurred within fairly easy rescue distance of some other large vessels, have reunions and there is a website.

One of the ways I like to categorize people, unfairly I suppose, is by how they identify themselves. For example, the first word I would use to describe myself is "smart," which is probably generous of me. I don't think it is the first thing other people would pick, but if I worry much about that I won't have any fun at all. I am in good company with this type of self-delusion--bet that Bill Gates doesn't think of himself first as "world's richest man" so why should I think of myself as "nuts?" Anyway, before female, before white, before anything else, I think of myself as smart. Professional women with children will usually put "mother" first, but interestingly most men would not put "father" ahead of "doctor."

So what does the first paragraph have to do with the second? There are many among that group of Andrea Doria survivors who make it their main identifier. While I scoff a little, I think it is a whole lot more healthy than a main identifier such as "Guinness record-holder for having made the largest ball of string," "crime victim," or "manic depressive." At least being a survivor of the Andrea Doria sinking has an element of fun. If I were one of them, I would hope it wouldn't be my main identifier, but for sure it would be in the top ten.

*Hubris, Knock on Wood, Kineahora

When will they learn! Hubris is one of those things the Greeks had a word for. It is arrogance in the face of the gods. Get too uppity and those Olympus folk put you back in your place. This isn't a concept unique to the Greeks, though. We knock on wood, or touch wood, when we say something that might tempt fate to pull the rug out from under us ("My child lie?? Never!" is a fine example).

The origin of "touch wood" is unknown and the Oxford English Dictionary (don't bother going to www.oed.com unless you want to spend $500 per year for the privilege of perusing that venerable tome on line--may as well buy the darn thing) says that the first time the phrase (the English version of "knock on wood") appeared in print was 1908. The OED doesn't mention "knock on wood" at all.

There is a Yiddish word that is used in exactly the same situations: kineahora (pronounced kin-a-hora). As far as I can see, it doesn't mean anything by itself-it is just a magic word to keep the fates off your case after you have foolishly let them know what YOU want to have happen (an example off another website was "Everything will be fine. Kineahora.").

The whole hubris-touch wood-kineahora thing, with its underlying jaded pessimism, reminds me of a roommate I once had who, when I was in a particularly cheerful morning mood, would smugly sneer "She who sings before breakfast will cry before dinner." And for sheer joy-killing there is this from Joel Chandler Harris via Uncle Remus: "Watch out w'en youer gittin' all you want. Fattenin' hogs ain't in luck."

Being human is such a drag. We finally evolved to the point where we can recognize happiness when we are in the middle of it but instead of stopping there we just had to go that one extra step so we could also see that it wasn't going to last. I said I was smart? Well, how smart is THAT?

 

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Marilyn Jones 2000-2008