A World Full of Signs
I can recall that after viewing M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs’ thriller, which appeared in 2002, I was thinking that ever since I ceased to crawl and stood erect, signs have played an important role in my life. Crop circle formations may be signs of a mysterious intelligence or one giant hoax, but they are as fascinating as all of the various uses and meanings of this simple, yet complex four letter word.
Everyone knows that astrologers have been studying the signs of the zodiac for centuries. One of the dictionary’s primary definitions is “an inscribed placard bearing an ad or a warning”. In the 1950s, some of the more popular advertising signs were those of Burma shave, e.g., “Dinah doesn’t treat him right, but if he shaved, Dinah might.”
My earliest recollection of a sign was the sign of the cross, followed by signing my name on early school papers by printing it in large, crooked letters. When some of us were pre-teens, stomach cramps were a certain sign that getting up early in the morning to go to school was unhealthy! Persistent cramping resulted in hand signs by parents that forewarned of the consequences of malingering or disobeying any authority. Baseball and football signs informed us whether we were safe or out or had scored a touchdown or stepped out of bounds.
We are perpetually exposed to signs. They are all around us, day in and day out, but do we really pay attention to them? Do we always follow their advice? What causes an intelligent and perceptive adult to walk directly past a cautionary sign into a bed of freshly poured concrete at a construction site, then snap at the nearest worker for inadequate warning? Are we so immune to the plethora of signs that we are indeed blind to them? When I lived in Pittsburgh during the 1980s, a motorist ignored police barricades and signs and drove himself off the “bridge to nowhere,” an uncompleted span, and into the Allegheny River over 100 feet below.
One of the more humanitarian uses for signs is sign language - meaningful gestures that enable deaf mutes to effectively communicate. Applause at a concert or sporting event is a sign of appreciation for an entertaining performance, while booing is always a sign of displeasure. A solid handshake is a sign of trust and fidelity, whereas moist palms can signify nervousness.
By now, I’m sure the reader will agree that signs are as common as squirrels burying acorns, which denotes a harsh winter ahead, or as crickets singing the night before a summer scorcher. Just as dark clouds are an omen for an impending storm or another losing Flyers season, we may reasonably conclude that violence and political division are just signs of the times. As I have haphazardly illustrated, all signs have meaning, some more obvious than others.
Several years ago, I was mowing in my aunt’s yard a few days before the July 16 feast. I was stunned when approached by a young man who said he was from Outer Mongolia and was doing fund-raising work in this area. He was holding an album that contained beautiful religious art prints that he was offering for a donation. I informed the unlikely visitor from another world that I had no money on me and wished him well in his endeavor. A short time later, I again stopped the mower when it appeared he was returning. Instead, it was his colleague, whose surname was Bombo. In response to my queries, Bombo stated that he was an evangelist from California and was raising funds for some world Christianity Church.
Noticing my perspiration, Bombo said that the sun in Hammonton is not as hot as in Arizona, where he and his friend had been the previous month. As the visitor from the other side of the world walked down French Street toward his vehicle, my thoughts wandered back to Shyamalan and other-worldly events that were a sure sign that this world is not as large as we think it is. For some strange reason, I suddenly felt that it was perfectly appropriate to be behind a push mower on a side street in a tiny farming community speaking to two Mongolians who found me in the process of creating my own formations in the tall, burnt-out weeds. That was one sign that I will need help in interpreting!
Bill Domenico is a Hammonton resident.