Let me start by saying I don’t believe every fortune cookie needs to have something wise to say. In fact, I’m guessing the cookies from which I received fortunes that I’ve since kept pinned to my bulletin board are likely the overachieving cookies that actually put some effort into coming up with a thoughtful bit of wisdom or wit to impart before fulfilling their sweet and crunchy destinies.
One quote tacked to my board is, “It takes courage to lead a life. Any life.” Well, Amen to that. Clearly that cookie had seen a thing or two and was familiar with struggle, and so its fortune earned a spot in my collection.
Another is, “Go for the gold today! You’ll be the champion of whatever.” Admittedly, this one sounds like a determined and well-meaning cookie that couldn’t quite complete the thought at the end. “Go for the gold today, and umm…you’ll be the champion of…whatever!” That’s how I read it in my mind, and I laughed and admired its enthusiasm and added the quote to the board.
One particularly deep fortune cookie said, “Life is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel.” But it turns out, that quote has been attributed to several thinkers from Jean de La Bruyere, to Jean Racine, to Horace Walpole, so that cookie was a bit of a poser and possibly a plagiarizer for not citing its source properly. Nonetheless, the quote became part of my collection.
There are countless fortune cookie quotes I’ve thrown away over the years because they didn’t contain anything interesting or noteworthy enough to justify keeping. But I never read a fortune that I’ve openly scoffed at until yesterday.
“Depend on the predictability and steadiness of life to support you.”
Oh, boy. This cookie must have led a sheltered life.
In fairness, being a fortune cookie spending most of its life surrounded by other cookies that look exactly like itself, protected from the crushing pressures of life in partially inflated shrink wrap packaging, and knowing with relatively high certainty just how it would meet its end – it can’t really be blamed for mistakenly believing that life is predictable and steady.
For people like me who have anxiety and people like my son who have autism – we seek predictability and steadiness in life precisely because life is not predictable and steady. Life is ever changing, and that scares the crap out of us because we’re not sure what to expect or how to prepare. Our routines and schedules and rules serve to calm our fears and create stability in the seeming chaos and uncertainty of everyday life.
It takes courage to lead a life. Any life. If life were predictable and steady, it wouldn’t take so much courage to get up each day, go for the gold, and maybe be the champion of…whatever.
What’s particularly interesting about the quote regarding life being a tragedy or a comedy is the fact that Horace Walpole’s version of this quote went as such: “I have often said, and oftener think, that this world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel – a solution of why Democritus laughed and Heraclitus wept.”[i]
Yeah, I’d never heard of them before either. But what is the Internet for if not to look up the names of ancient philosophers while in search of the origin of an un-cited quote found in a fortune cookie?
Turns out, Democritus was known as “the laughing philosopher”. He was a brilliant thinker with a cheerful disposition who came up with the atomic theory that everything in the universe is made up of atoms and empty space.[ii] Heraclitus, on the other hand, was known as “the Dark One”.[iii] He surmised that change is central to the nature of the Universe but there was also a “Logos” or logic to that change.[iv]
It’s not surprising to me that the philosopher who said things like, “Everything flows, nothing stays,” and “Nothing endures but change,” was seen as moody and pessimistic. But Heraclitus knew what my misguided fortune cookie failed to recognize – life is always in flux. “You cannot step twice in the same river.”[v]
But it’s good to remember that not all change is bad. And whether it’s in a scientific, philosophical, psychological, or spiritual sense, there does often seem to be “logic” behind the change.
Yet even when change is good and necessary, there’s still that fear of the unknown. It takes courage to accept change and cope with the anxiety, but my son and I are finding there is comfort in adaptability.
For example, my son carries his blanket, a “transition object”, to school with him everyday, sometimes wearing it over his head on difficult days. The blanket is predictable and steady. It reminds him of the safety of home. It helps him adapt by providing comfort and support when the environment, people, and expectations are changing around him.
And when I find myself saying, “This is unfamiliar, I’m worried what might happen next, and I wish I had a blanket to put over my head,” I’ve learned to give myself time to ease into the change, mentally and emotionally, and build familiarity with the new situation or competency with the new skill until the fear is replaced with confidence…or at least a sense that it’s not the end of the world and I will, indeed, survive.
When it’s all said and done, I can’t disparage my misguided fortune cookie for its half-baked wisdom. First of all, it seems like a jerk move to criticize a cookie after I’ve eaten it. Second, it provided the inspiration for my first blog post in 9 months, thereby ending a long and frustrating bout of writer’s block. Lastly and most importantly, that cookie clearly saw the value in steadiness and predictability, just like my boy and me.
So I baked its bit of wisdom a little longer until it was completely done, and now I’m adding it to my bulletin board: “Depend on the predictability and steadiness of life to support you, but find comfort in adapting to change.”
[i] Wikiquote contributors, “Horace Walpole,” Wikiquote, , https://en.wikiquote.org/w/index.php?title=Horace_Walpole&oldid=2284773 (accessed September 14, 2018).
[ii] Wikiquote contributors, “Democritus,” Wikiquote, , https://en.wikiquote.org/w/index.php?title=Democritus&oldid=2451430 (accessed September 14, 2018).
[iii] Palmer, Donald. Looking At Philosophy: The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter. 2nd ed. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1994.
[iv] Wikiquote contributors, “Heraclitus,” Wikiquote, , https://en.wikiquote.org/w/index.php?title=Heraclitus&oldid=2379976 (accessed September 14, 2018).