I’m probably just as crazy as you

For years, I nursed an irrational sense that something would happen to me at age 37. And like all humans, I gravitated first to disaster and predicted the world would end. For me, anyway. Why? Honestly I have no idea. For a few years, beginning around age 34, every time I looked at a clock the time would be something :37. I started noticing 37s in odd places: on signs, ads, programming code, and even got to the point where I’d gasp at yet another 37 popping up in some random place. Why the paranoia? Do humans naturally gravitate to conclusions signaling the End Times when they identify a pattern, even when no such indication is present (nor even, in many cases, a pattern)? Why did I assume a recurrence of the number 37 meant my untimely death? The one person I ever mentioned it to replied: “Maybe it’s the year you’ll become a millionaire.”

There was some reason for the fear, I guess. Twice at age 34 my wife had rushed me to the emergency room with asthma attacks that would surely have been fatal had I been alone those nights. I once face-planted hard onto asphalt while trying to ride a mountain bike drunk and in the dark. I’ve been a passenger in a few serious car wrecks and run over by a Ford Fairmont. To be honest there was a lot about my lifestyle from age 21-35 that suggested I wasn’t going to have a long and healthy existence. You’ll hear more about that if I’m ever in a more confessional mood.

By the time I turned 38 I’d cleaned up my act, decided to become a responsible adult, and almost forgotten about the 37 fear. Still, on the morning of my 38th birthday I still breathed a small sigh of relief that it was all 100% confirmed BS after all. All that remains now is the mild annoyance at having felt any anxiety at all.

I enjoyed some hearty laughs at the expense of the poor dupes who quit their jobs and spent their life savings last week in anticipation of Harold Camping’s 21 May Judgment Day. I’m a member of my local Skeptics’ Society; my heroes are James Randi and D.J. Grothe and Steven Novella. I have great arguments with my Christian/alt-med family about the non-efficacy of Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Bach Remedies, and Jesus. Psychics and conspiracy theories are entertaining but the people who believe them drive me nuts.

Maybe I’m just not a very good skeptic. Maybe I’m like those people you find sometimes: the strident anti-smoker who gets drunk and ends up with a cigarette in their hand; the family-values politician who think no-one will ever notice them hustling in a men’s washroom. The tough guy who screams like a little girl when a harmless huntsman runs across his leg or the Fascist with a secret Jewish mistress. For all my denial of spirit worlds I still get nervous walking past cemeteries at night and I turned on all the lights in my house, all night, after watching Ring. Then did it again after seeing the American version.

Being worried about dying isn’t such an irrational fear. After all, it will happen to you and everyone you love. What I didn’t do before I turned 38 was spend my life savings, quit my job or follow self-destruction through to its logical conclusion. I didn’t even believe my own irrational hype. Horror stories, ghosts, demons and all that nonsense are just psychological manifestations of anxiety about real-world things that could go wrong with our families, jobs, health, public reputations, criminal records, etc. If there’s any lesson I should learn, it’s to be a little more tolerant of people with irrational beliefs. Even though I still think you’re insane. I won’t pray to your god, visit your medium or borrow your Rescue Remedy but I’ll shut up more often when you do. I’ll just whisper ’37’ to myself and bite my tongue.