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How to Ward Off the Evil Eye

When I was a reporter at a daily newspaper, I often wrote stories based on press releases that various people and groups sent. Many described upcoming events. We would use them as the basis of a story or “clean them up” for publication. All of us in the Arts and Living department had to help out. (My main job was to write about theater and health and fitness.) Some of the press releases began on the proverbial wrong foot.

Here’s a first line in a hypothetical press release. (We call this the lede.)

THE BEST HORSE SHOW EVER, the 20th ANNUAL PRESENTED BY THE MARVELOUS MANES OF TEXAS, WILL WOW AUDIENCES WHEN THEIR CHAMPION HORSES COME TO THE COUNTY FAIRGROUNDS TOMORROW AT 4 P.M.

WOA!

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Predicting what will happen

The writer is making a claim they can’t back up in “best ever” and “wow audiences.”

In the old days of pen and paper, I would cross those out. These days I would press delete.

But my biggest pet peeve is that they are saying the show WILL happen when they can’t promise. What if they get a flat tire or the horses escape OR someone is sick and the show is called off? The re-write might go like this:

The Marvelous Manes of Oklahoma plan to bring their champion horses to the County Fairgrounds tomorrow at 4 p.m. for their 20th visit to Northampton.

OK, maybe you are wondering what a made-up horse show has to do with blood cancer. It has to do with how you talk about the future. The calendar says that the 15th anniversary of my fourth stem cell transplant is tomorrow (I’m writing on Jan. 29th) . Yet I am reluctant to tell people that it IS coming. I might jinx it, so I have to be careful when I talk to my kids about a possible birthday dinner.

Still, it would be ridiculous to say the anniversary is “expected to be tomorrow.”

You have to make some assumptions, or you will be tripping over your own words. NOT:
SEE YOU TOMORROW IF I DON’T GET EATEN BY A WILD BOAR!
SEE YOU TOMORROW IF I DON’T GET HIT BY A CAR!
MY FIFTEENTH RE-BIRTHDAY WILL HAPPEN TOMORROW UNLESS I DIE BEFORE.

The Jewish people, me included, are known to be especially leery of tempting fate.

And why shouldn’t we be nervous? We’ve been a target throughout history.

Treatment complications

The transplant was on Jan. 30th, 2009.

I can picture my little room at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center in Boston perfectly. I lay in the bed waiting, excitement blending with trepidation. The cells came in a bag much like those that contain blood or platelets. The infusion went smoothly. Then my heart started to race. A team of doctors dashed in and gave me something to slow it down. It worked. Too bad that’s not the worst thing that happened to me. Over the next three-plus months, I battled one infection after another. The transplant worked, but my body wasn’t happy about it. I went into a coma caused by kidney failure. I was in there for almost four months.

Maybe I didn’t do a good enough job of fighting the evil eye.

Trying to avoid bad luck

I saw Stephen Colbert interview Ben Platt, star of the hit Broadway show Dear Evan Hanson, before the upcoming Tony Awards in 2017. Colbert said he thought Platt was the lead contender for best actor. Platt looked over his shoulder and said toi, toi, toi (one of several sounds of a spit.) He won the award.

In The Forward, a Jewish publication, the author Philologos states that this sound “is simply a variant of Eastern European Yiddish *tfu, tfu, tfu, with which some of you Forward readers are surely familiar. And if you’re not, you may know it as tfut, tfut, tfut; fut, fut, fut; fu, fu, fu; pu, pu, pu, *or *peh, peh, peh. *All work equally well against the Evil Eye and are highly recommended after saying something that may make it want to take you down a peg, such as, “I think I’m going to get that raise that I asked for (tfu, tfu, tfu!),” or even just, “It looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day (tfu, tfu, tfu!).”

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Other superstitions

Years ago, my aunt started saying “God willing and the creeks don’t rise” after talking about a plan. I started saying it too. Yay, another way to ward off the evil eye! Then I heard that the phrase has an ugly history. I thought it referred to water. It actually refers to a Native American tribe, the Creek Indians of Alabama, who fought with the settlers in the 1800s and were ultimately decimated.

I stopped saying it when someone told me the background. I prefer to say toi, toi, toi.

I also sometimes try "NO keinehora." This, according to the Jewish English Lexicon, is “an expression uttered after positive information to ward off the evil eye or bad luck."

In this context I might say, “I’m going to have my 15th birthday tomorrow. No keinehora.”

Then there is good old knocking wood.

Do you have superstitions regarding your blood cancer? Tell us in the comments!

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Treatment results and side effects can vary from person to person. This treatment information is not meant to replace professional medical advice. Talk to your doctor about what to expect before starting and while taking any treatment.
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