It was just another day here in the Seattle University Jesuit community dining room. It was just another dinner. I think we had salmon to be exact; it is Seattle after all. And then, inexplicably, we had fortune cookies for dessert. Strike that. We had “un-fortunate” cookies for dessert.
There is a fortune cookie factory here in Seattle’s Chinatown that sells bags of “un-fortunate” cookies. They’re the cookies that were somehow mangled, flattened, or otherwise maligned in the fortune folding process. They come in a large plastic bag about the size of a beach ball. It’s like a plastic tent hosting the sideshow cookie convention: a mangled menagerie of scrumptious vanilla soothsayers. If Flannery O’Connor had a fortune cookie for a character it would be in this bag of freaks – twisted, rejected, sacred freaks.
There was no Chinese food on our menu that night, but when you live in community you eat what’s put before you. And when you live on the kindness of strangers what’s put before you sometimes means fortune cookies and salmon. And when you welcome all and reject none, well, sometimes that means mangled un-fortunate cookies and salmon.
After I finished my dinner I went over to the serving table and chose my cookie, my fortune for the night. There it was – like the ribboned folds of an oyster shell, a little knot of cookie to finish off my week. I was really looking forward to this.
It felt substantial in my hand, dense, like I was getting more than the usual airy lightness you expect from a fortune cookie. And I was extra pleased, you see, because in this bag not everybody gets a fortune. But there, half pinned between the cookie’s crevasse, was the familiar litmus strip of good news… or lotto numbers, sometimes it’s just lotto numbers. In any case, I took up my fortune, triumphant and satisfied, and went back to my table to take it all in.
I must say, the usual mojo was a little off. We all have our small superstitions: do you eat before you read? Do you read before you eat? Do you read while you chew? Whatever my typical ritual had been was confounded by this cookie that needed not so much to be opened as shucked. I gently tugged the fortune loose from the cookie’s gnarled grasp. It’s sacred parchment was half translucent from sesame oil where the cookie had pinched the paper.
And before eating I read silently, expectantly, to myself: “The fortune you seek is in another cookie.”
Wait a minute. The fortune I seek is in another cookie? Well, ain’t that the truth.
I have to admit. At first I was a little frustrated, disappointed even. But I want my fortune now! And then I began the sacred process of interpretation; I began asking the questions we all ask of fortune cookies, whether we admit it or not: what could this mean? Could it be true? Is there some wisdom here or is this just another crude joke about something happening “in bed”? What if it were true?
Staring past my translucent fortune, I wondered: did this cookie suffer from self-judgment? I’m just a twisted freak here; you probably wanted a better cookie; I’m not the cookie you’re looking for. And I was tempted to try again. If my fortune is in another cookie, shouldn’t I have another?
At another level my fortune was a truism. I can’t possibly seek this fortune; I already possess it. The fortune I have is in this cookie; the fortune I seek? That’s another cookie. The fortune we all seek is in another cookie by virtue of the fact that it is sought! It began to make sense. The more I thought about it the more reassured I became of its truth and wisdom.
My fortune is out there somewhere. And there’s a whole bag of these freakish foretellers still sitting on our kitchen counter. I’ve got time. I’ve a future to find.
There will be more cookies in my life – some of them finely folded, others flat and fortuneless. But I am a seeker. My fortune is here – but not yet. Oh yes. The fortune I seek is in another cookie.