The Truth about Thirteen
The principal introduced the commencement speaker, face aglow with pride. “Ladies and gentlemen, she’s one of us, our 1999 valedictorian. She’s a fellow educator. She’s a published poet, and, now, the author of the bestselling novel, Lucky Thirteen. Please, welcome Dr. Larkin Sloan Reynolds.”
An obviously pregnant Larkin Sloan Reynolds stepped to the podium to a round of applause. “Wow!” she said as she surveyed the rows of graduates and their supporters. “I cannot believe it has been thirteen years since I was right here in this very auditorium listening to my commencement speaker. Now, here it is May 13, 2012, a spectacular Sunday afternoon, and you are graduating. I am absolutely positive you couldn’t care less that today is the thirteenth. You just feel lucky to be graduating. But that is what I want to talk about today—luck and thirteen.
“You have all heard how unlucky the number thirteen is. And, God forbid, should it coincide with a Friday. We have scores of movies telling us what an awful day that is. But why does thirteen have such a bad reputation?” She paused briefly for effect.
“First, Christians associate thirteen with the number present at the Last Supper. Tradition holds that Judas Iscariot was the last to sit at the table, and he is the pinnacle of evil as the man who betrayed Christ.
“In Norse mythology, Odin invited eleven of his friends to a party, which was crashed by Loki, the god of evil and turmoil and mischief. I am sure that party got lively.” A ripple of laughter sounded from the audience. “Scandinavians believe the number thirteen unlucky due to the twelve mythological demigods being joined by a thirteenth evil one.
“Thirteen can never be divided equally to form groups. It’s a prime number. There will always be one unlucky person left over, unloved and unwanted.” Larkin put on a sad face.
“Another possibility for poor thirteen’s bad name could be that there are thirteen full moons in a year. A woman typically has thirteen periods in a year, and in the past a woman who menstruated during a full moon was considered a witch. However, a woman living in a natural society tends to have her cycle correspond to moon cycles. Nonetheless, witches’ covens are associated with having the perfect number of members, thirteen. I know that to be true because I met one once.” The memory caused her to breathe deeply.
“In a Tarot deck, the number thirteen is reversed and can be interpreted to portend death. Thirteen reversed is thirty-one. I’m thirty-one. Should I be concerned?” Another ripple of laughter occurred, but slightly softer than before. Laughing about a mythical deity was one thing; death, another.
“As I said before, thirteen plus Friday spell disaster. But why? Well, during the Middle Ages, King Philip IV of France ordered the arrests of Jacques de Molay, the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, supposed guardians of the Holy Grail and other religious artifacts, and sixty of his senior knights on Friday, October 13, 1307. Most of them were tortured and executed, causing their sympathizers to condemn the date as evil. In the eighteenth century, the ship, the HMS Friday, was launched on Friday the thirteenth and never seen again.
“Christians and Europeans tend to view thirteen as unlucky, but that is not true for all civilizations. Some cultures revere the number. Even Christians once saw thirteen in a positive light as it was thought the Magi visited Jesus on the thirteenth day of His life, giving rise to the twelve days of Christmas. The Catholic Church still celebrates Epiphany twelve days after Christmas.
“We can thank the Egyptians for developing the first superstition about thirteen, but for them, it was lucky. They believed there were twelve steps on the ladder to eternal life and knowledge. The thirteenth step meant immortality, going through death to eternal life.
“The Sikhs believe that the Guru Navek De Ji gave out food for free. When he got to the thirteenth person, he stopped. The Hindi word for thirteen is Terah, which means yours. The Guru Navek kept saying, ‘Yours, yours,’ remembering God. And although he had been giving food away, when the money stores were checked, there was more money than before. Also, the Ik Onkar looks like thirteen and means one God. It is the symbol for the unity of God and a central tenet of Sikh religious philosophy.
“In Judaism, thirteen is the age at which a boy matures and celebrates his Bar Mitzvah. How many of you couldn’t wait to become a teenager—thirteen?” She looked around the gathering with a knowing expression. “According to the Torah, the sacred writing of Judaism, God has thirteen attributes of mercy.
“In China, the number thirteen is considered lucky. The number one, when placed in the tens place, sounds like ‘shi’ and means definite in Mandarin. The number three sounds like living or life or birth. Hence, the number thirteen, which is pronounced ‘shisan’ in Mandarin, means assured growth or definitely vibrant.
“Even in American society, many famous sports figures have pushed their luck and worn number thirteen. In baseball Ozzie Guillen and, um”—She paused then whispered into the mike very fast—“Alex Rodriguez have worn it.” Many chuckles sounded. “An NBA great who wore thirteen is Wilt Chamberlain. The International Basketball Federation, better known as FIBA, requires a player to wear thirteen. Some well-known basketball players who have worn thirteen in international competition, such as the Olympics, are Tim Duncan, Chris Mullen, and Shaquille O’Neal. In the NHL, Mats Sundin has tempted fate and worn number thirteen. In the world of soccer, my sport, Kristine Lilly and Michael Ballack, a Brit, have been number thirteen. NFL wide receiver for the New York Jets, Don Maynard, wore number thirteen; NFL quarterback, Kurt Warner donned the number thirteen for both the Rams and the Cardinals, and even got a Super Bowl victory with the Rams as number thirteen; but probably the most well known sports number thirteen was NFL Hall of Famer, quarterback, Dan Marino for the Miami Dolphins.” She cocked an eyebrow and delivered as lopsided grin. “Well, maybe if he had worn twelve, he would have won that Super Bowl ring rather than breaking almost every record there ever was at the time.” A smattering of applause greeted Larkin’s reference to Dan Marino.
“Italians consider thirteen lucky, and old-school tattoo cultures regard it as lucky.” She stuck her ankle into the open to display and intricate tattoo of the number thirteen.
“Colgate University epitomizes thirteen’s good fortune. The college was founded in 1819—too bad it wasn’t 1813—by thirteen men with thirteen dollars, thirteen prayers, and thirteen articles. As a matter of fact, the campus address is 13 Oak Drive, Hamilton, New York.
“In addition, the number thirteen must have had the utmost importance to our founding fathers. I mean, there were thirteen original colonies, and there are still thirteen stripes on our flag. The Great Seal of the United States is covered with the number thirteen. Some people say that is because so many of our founding fathers were Free Masons, and there are thirteen levels of Free Masonry. Very few achieve the thirteenth level of Grand Master, so that part could be true. They might have considered thirteen to be achieving the superlative.
“Let’s look at the Great Seal to see how important thirteen is to it. If you have a dollar, take it out, and let’s look at the Great Seal on the back.” Larkin retrieved her purse from beneath the podium and took out a dollar bill, giving any who wanted to get a dollar out time to do so.
“Okay. If you don’t have a dollar, but are sitting close enough to see one, look at this with me, and please check out a dollar closely when you leave. Let’s first examine the right side with the eagle on it. Let’s work from top to bottom. Count the stars above the eagle’s head.” She paused. “There are thirteen. Next, count the letters in E Pluribus Unum.” Larkin waited a moment before continuing. “Again, there are thirteen. Now, let’s examine the shield. I think if you can see well enough to count the horizontal stripes, there are thirteen. I know there are thirteen vertical stripes. Now, count the leaves on the olive branch and the arrows in each talon. There are thirteen leaves and thirteen arrows.
“Now, let’s look at the other side. Annuit Coeptus contains thirteen letters. Last, there are thirteen levels of the pyramid, the thirteenth being the top or the eye. This leads back to the Free Masons as the pyramid and the eye as the superlative being their symbols and the laying of the foundation of our country. This also takes us back to the Egyptians and the first superstition about thirteen with the highest level being immortality. Where are the Great Pyramids found?” Larkin laid down the dollar. “Egypt.”
“So, I guess you have to draw your own conclusions about thirteen. There are too many conflicting opinions, but, hey, what cop do you know that would turn down a baker’s dozen, thirteen, of doughnuts? Let me get a personal opinion. My husband is a cop. Ray, honey, which would you rather have, twelve or thirteen?”
From the back of the auditorium Ray shouted, “Thirteen, Angel. You know it.” The audience roared with laughter.
After the humor, Larkin went on, “Just to let you know, Ray was thirty-one when we married. Don’t you dare say marriage is equivalent to death!” She shook her head with slow deliberation and silly smirk on her face. The audience laughed again.
“So, is thirteen lucky or unlucky?” she asked. “Well, today is the thirteenth and a very lucky day for all of you.” Larkin picked up a copy of her book. “Lucky Thirteen is a novel, and, then, again, it isn’t. The names were changed to protect the innocent—or guilty—depending on your take. You see, I am Lucky Thirteen. It’s the best number I’ve ever known.
“I was born on Friday, March 13, 1981. My wonderful husband, Ray, was born on Friday, January 13, 1978. We really tempted fate and got married on Friday, November 13, 2009.” Larkin indicated with her hand. “He’s sitting in the back. You’ve already met him; he’s holding our son, Christopher.” Much shifting in seats rustled clothing as many turned to the back of the auditorium. Ray waved.
“Next to him is another lucky thirteen, Ray’s twin brother, Raif, and my nephew Patrick. Beside Raif is his wife and my dearest friend, Chris. They threw caution to the wind, too, and were married on Friday, February 13, 2009. She’s snuggling their brand new baby, Trista. My beautiful niece, Lindsay is next to them, and the most delightful in-laws on Earth, Dorothy and Albert Reynolds are next to her. Last, is my other mother-in-law, Ray and Raif’s biological mother, Audrey, along with her newlywed husband, Walter Bertram.” Larkin patted her protruding abdomen. “This one is Courtney. If you count, that makes thirteen of us. Why do I think thirteen is the best number ever? Well, I don’t hold much stock in superstition, but being thirteenth gave me this amazing family.” She swept her hand outward.
“But what do luck and thirteen mean for you? The 13th of May means a commencement, a beginning. But you ask, ‘What is the truth about thirteen and luck?’
“The truth is”—Larkin paused for a long moment before delivering the answer—“Thirteen is a number. It comes between twelve and fourteen. Your luck is what you make it. Your life is what you make it. So, go out and make it count.”
Larkin stepped away from the podium. A moment of silence lingered before the assembly reverberated with applause. She found the most gorgeous blue eyes in the world as Ray blew her a kiss. Amid hundreds of people, they were the only two present, and Larkin knew for her, thirteen was the luckiest number ever. She was, indeed, Lucky Thirteen.
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