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Good fortunes

If I owned a fortune cookie company, here's what I'd put in the cookies.
By Meg Barnhouse
Winter 2006 11.1.06

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Some people pick their favorite Chinese restaurants by the Bourbon Chicken. In my family, we do it by the fortune cookies. The other night we tried a new place. The food was fine, and the service was lovely, but when I broke apart the cookie after the meal, I read, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way”? That is one lame fortune. Why not “too many cooks spoil the broth,” or “a stitch in time saves nine”? If they are going to call it a “fortune,” I should at least get the promise of a thrilling time to come, or a journey with unforeseen results.

If I owned a fortune cookie company, I would make the fortunes evocative, something to excite the imagination, shine a light on new possibilities, so that people’s perspectives would shift after their meal. I might put in something like, “You will see three beautiful things tomorrow.” Then the whole next day, the person would have their eyes open, looking for beauty. They would ask themselves, “What is beauty? Is that tree the beautiful thing? Is my spouse the beautiful thing? This hand of mine? The glimpse of my miraculous eye in the rearview mirror that enables such beauties to pour into my heart?”

Maybe I would write, “Seven people love you madly.” What would that make of your next several days? You would look at each of your friends with a secret smile. “Are you one of them? I knew you liked me fine, but do you love me madly?” How about this one: “You will figure something out two days from now” or “They appreciate what you did.” Why not? People certainly get slipped awful little messages in innocuous forms. A partner says, “You don’t get it,” or “You’re just like your father.” We receive messages from bosses, parents, friends, and from that venomous voice inside that knows all about us and doesn’t think much of any of it. Why not interrupt the spread of discouragement and dismissal with a tidbit for the soul after a Chinese meal? I would love to get a fortune that says, “Don’t try to improve yourself tomorrow.” Tell me that wouldn’t make you laugh out loud. What would it do to your perspective if you read, “The next two years are just for fun”?

Here is what I’m going to do. I’m going to write these down just for myself and keep them in a bowl by the bed. I’ll draw one out every morning and see what happens to my eyes, to my ears, to my heart and my spirit. Maybe I will pass them around at parties. Join me, and together we can whisper peachy little perspective-shifters into one another’s days. I’m looking forward to the twinkle in your eye.


Reprinted with permission from Did I Say That Out Loud? Musings from a Questioning Soul, Skinner House, 2006.

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