Joy in Small Things
By A.D. Freudenheim

25 August 2002

I recently rediscovered one of my older and more consistent collections; since 1989, I have saved the little paper fortune from every fortune cookie I have eaten, from every Chinese meal I have had. The ritual involved is fairly minor: I open the cookie, and eat one half while untwisting the fortune; while chewing the second half of the cookie, I look at the fortune itself. I typically refrain from reading my fortune aloud - something about speaking it to others seems inappropriate, though I am happy to pass it around and share its message - and then, after reading it again, it goes into a zippered pocket in my wallet.

And really, that should be the end of the story. I almost never look in this pocket, other than to add a new fortune. I do not mark the fortunes in any way, so they are and remain undated, and I have only my memory to remind me of when and where I might have been when I received a particular piece of wisdom. For the most part, I cannot remember any of these details. I do not know how many fortunes I have, and I have rarely had a desire to count them. Nor have I made any effort at preserving these scraps of paper; they will survive (or not) in a relatively compressed space, folded or twisted as they might wind up by chance. But despite the seeming lack of attention or care, they are by far the most valuable and irreplaceable thing in my wallet.

I just bought a new wallet (I think the old one dated to the same year the fortune cookie collecting began) and so for the first time in more than a decade I had cause to look through this small and very personal collection. Doing so reminded me of why I started saving these fortunes in the first place: they seemed to represent the diversity of life on a very small, pocketable scale. First of all, there is their broad range pronouncements, encompassing everything from a traditional "fortune," a prediction about one's life ("Your lover will never wish to leave you.") to a commentary on one's personality ("You have a warm and generous spirit.") to more general observations on life ("The philosophy of one century is the common sense of the next.").

There is variety in the style and presentation of the fortunes' messages, some of which begin with a pidgin English-style "Confucious say ...", while others include "Lucky Numbers" or lessons on how to speak Chinese. Many are assertively simple, seemingly focused on quality: one small fortune in small black type on one side of a small, machine-punched strip of paper. Others have more expansive goals, using both sides of the paper, but often with cheaper ink that has bleeds and fades over time. There is even variety in the papers themselves, with different sizes and shapes and, sometimes, clear attempts at modernization, as with several fortunes printed on the same type of waxy paper used for the comics and jokes distributed with Bazooka Joe chewing gum.

My new wallet also has a zipper pocket, and so with as little ceremony as possible, I transferred the contents from one to the other. Occasionally, I unfolded a fortune before putting it into the new wallet, and in some cases I forcibly broke up clusters of paper that seemed to have sought out each other's company over the years. And I read some of the fortunes, but not many and completely at random. This is not a fetishistic collection, clearly. It simply reminds me of the passing of time, of meals eaten and enjoyed and shared with friends, and of a famous line from Keats: A thing of beauty is a joy forever. I have not yet seen that line printed on a fortune, but perhaps someday I will.

Copyright 2002, by A.D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.
This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.