12 June 2011

fortune cookie

"This place is notorious for terrible fortune cookies," my friend Sara said one Saturday night as we sat in this dimly-lit Chinese restaurant on Main Street Suburbia.

I probably didn't need to tell you it was a Chinese restaurant, what with the fortune cookie context clue and all, and I probably didn't need to tell you that it was dimly lit.

From my experience, unless a Chinese restaurant is located in a mall food court, it's only half-illuminated.

Why is this? Are the restaurants, normally filled by groups of women and families with children picking the cashews out of the cashew chicken, going for that romantic mood?

Is all of China operating under a partial blackout and so the American restaurants are trying to be authentic?

Because I like Chinese food, I refuse to think about the possibility that the restaurants keep you in the murky dark so you won't be disgusted by the real color of moo goo gai pan.

So there I sat in the half-dark {half-light? Is this revealing something about my optimism?}, full of egg foo yung and with a take-home carton full of egg food yung {so much food: why is there so much food at Chinese restaurants?}.

I reached for the fortune cookie, which I don't actually like. The staleness, the crumbs, the thin glue coating to add a sheen. No one actually thinks fortune cookies are fresh: why bother with the sheen?

I also don't like those games you're supposed to play with fortune cookies. You know, those games where you're supposed to add "in between the sheets" to the end of your fortune and then everyone laughs at the dirtiness of what you're all thinking. Everyone thinking the same thing at the same time, a phenomenon that doesn't often happen.

But after reading a dirty fortune cookie, everyone is thinking about that preposterous proposition, and most everyone is thinking about how full they are, stomachs bulged full with gooey sauce and sticky rice.

I cracked open the fortune cookie, shook off the crumbs, and pulled out the fortune.

I let the cookie clank down on my plate as I read:
You find beauty in ordinary things. Do not lose this ability.

Sara leaned over my shoulder. "What's it say? Isn't it just ridiculous?"

Beauty in ordinary things—no, it wasn't ridiculous.

It also wasn't so much a fortune as a command, and I didn't know how I felt about being bossed around by a slip of paper that until recently had lived in a bad cookie.

But I liked the idea.

I like the idea of finding highlights of pretty on a normal Monday afternoon: in the sun on the office building or in a co-worker's laugh.

I like looking for what draws the eye on a long drive through what other people would call the Middle of Nowhere: have you ever really looked at old barns, or how soybeans look so daring when they're just beginning to grow?

I like finding charm in a typical Chinese restaurant on a typical street in a typical suburb: who you're with in that very particular place creates the charm, you know.

I do this because our lives are full of normal days.

There are highlights, of course:

weddings and
holidays and
early outs from school and
long-weekends in both familiar and unfamiliar places.

But mostly what we live out, day by day, is a string of normal.

Days where nothing is out-of-the-ordinary and where we eat well, talk to people we love, and go to bed on time.

These are days to be thankful for, but if you aren't looking for beauty in ordinary things and ordinary times, then these stretches of normal can feel claustrophobic. Like they're cutting off your blood supply. Like you're sitting in perpetual half-darkness.

I can't live like that.

{I also can't live with one excitement right after the other. Always moving on to the next big thing and superlative topping. That's tiring. That's unsustainable. That's limiting in its grandeur.}

For me to appreciate the extraordinary, I need to enjoy the ordinary.

"No, it's actually a good fortune," I told Sara as I slipped it into my wallet and slipped out of the booth. Out of the restaurant and into the half-light of a late spring dusk.

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