The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking

“It was made by a silversmith in India, and it fits in the palm of my hand,” said Mr. Shukla, 41. “Hanuman represents strength, perseverance and devotion, and it has been a constant reminder of those qualities,” as well as a way of keeping his mother near him.

“Yes, I have my personal talisman,” Tommaso Sacchi, the deputy mayor for culture, fashion and design of Florence, Italy, wrote in a recent email, a day after Pope Francis celebrated Mass in an eerily vacant St. Peter’s Square.

“It is a book that gives me the courage to live through these horrible days of fighting the virus,” Mr. Sacchi, 37, wrote of a privately printed volume of memories of World War II written by a 22-year-old partisan fighting in the hills of northern Italy. “My luck charm is the book of this old man,” Mr. Sacchi said, meaning his 98-year-old grandfather, Edoardo Sacchi. “In this time, we give renewed value to our roots, our grannies and grandpas, the most fragile elements of this whole horrible attack.”

In a sense, Mr. Sacchi’s luck charm, rooted as it is in an unlikely tale of survival, is more rational than most. Yet it is not fundamentally removed from the widespread custom of bypassing a 13th floor in elevators and high rises, knocking on wood or not walking under ladders. Millions of us, despite knowing them to be irrational, daily abide by quirky yet soothing rituals.

“When I left New York for Canada to quarantine for an indefinite amount of time, there was only one thing I consciously took as a good-luck charm of sorts,” said Emily Bode, 30, a men’s wear designer, referring to her grandmother’s red zip-up ski sweater. “I always make sure I wear it on a plane or have it in my purse. It’s comforting for me to have something that not only have I loved for over 15 years, but that has been a part of my mother’s entire life and my late grandmother’s.”

Continuity, on a global scale, has rarely felt more fragile than during the pandemic, according to Jane Risen, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “We like to be able to predict and control our environments, and even an illusory sense of predictability is better than not having any,” she said. “People are looking for anything to stabilize themselves.”


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