Written January 1, 2013

Tonight my kitchen smells like home.  All afternoon a batch of black-eyed peas simmered in the crock-pot, filling the air with the soul-food aroma of salty smoked ham-hock, onions, bay leaves, and black peppercorns—my Georgia grandma’s recipe for a dish called “Hoppin’ John.”  It’s tradition in the South to have black-eyed peas on January 1st to guarantee good luck in the New Year.  The tradition runs so deep as to have become superstition—that to not eat the peas will actually bring bad luck!  And God knows we all need 2013 to be a lucky year.

Like most people, I have my share of superstitions and personal rituals I adhere to in the quest for the illusion of power.  For example, I believe in omens.  A wise medicine woman once told me that a hawk flying over head is a good omen.  So I’m often looking upward, especially when traveling, and feel a wash of relief when I see a hawk circling above.

Last week, a hawk flew directly over my head, only ten feet above me.  Looking up, I saw its proud speckled belly and impressive wing span.  The hawk alighted on a tree branch in my neighbor’s backyard.  For a long moment we held eye-contact—then it flew away.

The hawk sighting took place moments after my son Jeff and new daughter-in-law Brianne had loaded up their car with Christmas gifts and my two “grand-dogs,” Raspberry Beret and Mike Jones.  The newlyweds were heading to Michigan to drop off the dogs before departing for their honeymoon in Thailand and Hong Kong.  I chose to see the hawk as a good omen—that the kids would return safely from their travels.

The Oxford dictionary defines superstition as “credulity regarding the supernatural,” and omen as an “occurrence or object regarded as portending good or evil.”  They are similar in that it is we who choose to give them power.  Believing in omens and superstitious rituals isn’t a bad thing, as long as we realize we have choices in how we regard them—and belief in the power of our own minds and actions.

Last night, people world-wide celebrated the arrival of 2013 in rituals both unique and similar.  We eagerly let go of a year that universally reaffirmed that life is precious and uncertain.  2012 taught us that we can each only do whatever is within our power and hope for the best possible results.  But I believe in hope—and the power within each of us to make a positive difference in our own lives and in the lives of others.

In the craziness of the past month, I almost forgot about Hoppin’ John—suddenly remembering while dashing through Whole Foods for New Year’s Eve dinner fixings.  There were no frozen or canned black-eyed peas, so I got them from the bulk bin, which meant soaking the dried peas overnight and slow cooking them today.  It meant doing it the right way.  Fortunately, I’d purchased the ham-hock two weeks ago when I spied it next to the bacon.  After 30 years of living in Chicago, I still sometimes forget that black-eyed peas and ham-hocks are not a New Year’s Day staple in the North.

The peas took all day to cook and we had dinner plans with friends at a Mexican restaurant, so there was no opportunity to eat the Hoppin’ John today.  At the restaurant, I had a few bites of refried beans, but I don’t grant frijoles holy powers. Tomorrow I’ll steam rice and chop some red onion.  I’ll bake corn muffins to serve with butter and honey.  Tomorrow night I’ll sit and slowly savor it all—but tradition demands that the peas be eaten on New Year’s Day.  So, tonight I stood over my crock-pot with a wooden spoon and a bottle of hot sauce and shoveled in a generous serving of hope for the New Year.  The black-eyes peas smelled like home and tasted like good luck.

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