Tuesday, August 2, 2011
I started the settling-in ritual. Adjust the backpack at my feet. Grab the book. Tighten the safety belt of my seat. Look up to see a guy staring quizzically at me.
Wait. That last part is not routine. As I'm piecing this information together, the guy says to me "I think you're in my seat."
I furl my brow in confusion, and reply "No, I think I am where I am supposed to be. I have seat 14A..." And as I am looking up at him, a quick glance to the side catches the row number. It's 15. For a moment, I am thoroughly confused. I could have sworn that I sat down two rows beyond from where I saw row 12.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Somehow I managed to miss my row," I tell him. Quickly I gather my things, and we proceed to do that nameless dance you have to do when moving around someone else on an airplane.
He sits down. I move up. OK, row 15.. and there's row 14 where I am... next to row 12. Row 12. Row 12?
I sat down in row "14" with a confident reassurance that I can still accurately add two to twelve, but I couldn't help but be amused. There is no row labeled 13. Triskaidekaphobia strikes again.
This irrational phobia is still made manifest more often then you think. New hotels, airplanes, sports stadiums, etc. all avoid the number 13. In hotels, it's usually just the thirteenth floor which is "skipped," but I've also stayed in some hotels where the thirteenth room on every floor was omitted from being labeled as such.
Of course, the label does not change a thing. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and a thirteenth row in an airplane still exists, even if it is labeled as the fourteenth row. The fear gets even more irrational when you consider that where we start numbering is essentially an arbitrary convention. There is no reason why you could not start numbering the rows from back to front in an airplane, or numbering the floors from top to bottom in a hotel (although it is more intuitive with our conventions).
So how does this relate to religion? One theory is that triskaidekaphobia originated due to Judas being the thirteenth guest to sit at the table for the Last Supper, from where Judas would go on to betray Jesus, but the origin not really important.
The point is that triskaidekaphobia exists, in our modern world, without any kind of rational reason to have this fear. Yet people with triskaidekaphobia are frightened to the point of feeling that their lives are in mortal danger from an arbitrarily assigned label. It is a visceral feeling which shakes them to the very core. And it's all... in... their... head.
Sometimes things which feel so real to us are nothing more than the lies we are willing to believe.