Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Fortune Cookies

On my way home from work today I stopped to get some take-out Chinese (since I'm home alone tonight and not much in the mood to cook.) My single order was augmented with a bounty of not one - but two fortune cookies. After eating a bit I snatched up the first of them, cracked it open and read:
Depart not from the path which fate has assigned you.
It’s not that I’m overly (or at all) superstitious, but I had to face it - I’ve certainly been fate’s bitch as of late. And it occurred to me, as it often does, how ridiculously stupid these fortune cookie sayings always are. Assuming fate has assigned me a path – How could I part from it? So what’s the point? Am I supposed to be happy with whatever god-awful things come my way and simply shrug, knowing it’s my fate? Screw that. Unsurprisingly, in their lame attempts to make predictions, these things always end up giving hollow praise, or offering such circular logic. All this pseudo-philosophical I’m older than I ever was, yet younger than I’ll ever be sort of nonsense has never really resonated with me.

And as I sit here typing this, I’m suddenly reminded of a time years back when I was eating Vietnamese cuisine with my friend Ken. A meal which, curiously enough, also came with Chinese fortune cookies. It was a sort of celebratory meal. Ken was recovering from chemotherapy treatments for his leukemia. After finally getting free from months in the hospital he was just starting to be able to taste real food again. It looked as if he was actually in remission, but nobody knew for sure, and he was still uneasy about it. My cookie then boasted something shallow and superficial like, ‘You are well reguarded by others’, but when Ken cracked open his cookie he found – nothing. It was empty. He had no fortune at all.

This clearly upset Ken - only a little bit, but enough to trigger a shift in his mood. I offered him the fortune from my cookie, but he refused it - insisting it wasn’t his. Somehow our celebratory feast was strangely being overturned by the combination of Ken’s still frazzled nerves and the innocuous absence of a useless little strip of paper. It was a cold twist of fate manifested in an inanely trivial manner. After a short period of quiet brooding, Ken called the waiter and demanded another cookie. The waiter obligingly brought us a handful. Ken selected just one, which he carefully removed from its little cellophane package and then somberly broke open. I hung there, dreading what it might or might not say, knowing that after so much build-up it would be critically interpreted. Ken’s fragile mood hinged on a capricious cookie.

Thankfully, it turned out to be one of the better ones. Still nonsense, but nonsense obliquely referencing ‘a triumph of inner strength’, and it could only be interpreted as a good omen. And a good omen it was too. Days thereafter, Ken’s next round of tests confirmed he really was in remission. Ken saved the silly fortune. I’ll always remember it as the day Ken changed his fate.

But fate has way of catching-up with us. Ken stayed in remission for about a year before relapsing. The first time was horrible, but the second time was unimaginably worse. The one thing that impressed me most about Ken – the thing that impressed everyone – was how obstinately he clung to life. Even when the doctors told him death was certain he never stopped living - for whatever it was worth. He was a fighter. He lived months longer than anyone expected. Of course he never stopped getting sicker. He just wouldn’t die. And it’s not that he lied to himself about what was happening, he knew most every day would be worse than the previous. But he refused to accept his fate amicably, and I’ll always admire him for that. It still strikes me as a paradox that Ken – the man wouldn’t die – actually did.

Although I wasn’t thinking about it at the time (I didn’t reminisce on the meal with Ken until I started typing this) I’m sure it must have been behind the subconscious impulse to switch out my own fate. After my own brief period of quiet brooding, I turned to the auspicious second cookie and cleverly teased out its fortune without breaking it open. It reads:
You will make many changes before settling satisfactorily.
No kidding. It's strange how I managed to snag such seemingly flipside fortunes. I deftly to put the first fortune back into the whole cookie before I threw it away. Maybe I'll keep the new fortune. I know it's silly but, Ken would approve.


Blogger Steve Ranson said...

It seems to me that superstitions tend to affect the future rather than predict it. I always toss my fortune cookies directly into the trash.

My brother, Larry, passed after a long fight with a form of Leukemia. He apparently contracted the illness after being exposed to radiation while working as an architect in the oldest functioning nuclear power plant in the country. In my book, their need for updating to keep the place in operation did not outweigh my need for a brother. The worst part is they concealed the release and resulting exposure until the matter was settled out of court. It didn’t really make any difference.

It’s enough to make me to make me toss my cookies.

word verification image: oxosuqhd

a squid with a paradoxical personality.

10/28/2005 10:16 AM  
Blogger Dædalux said...

Sorry to hear about your brother. Death sucks. So do the bean-counters that think it all equates to $$$.

But the flipside is realizing Life is Sweet. Even when it doesn't seem like it is - it is.

Word Verification
zvrrjv: Spoken by a beach bum who tried yell, 'Surf's Up!' but got plowed by a wave in process.

11/15/2005 9:33 PM  

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