Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Syntax of Fate

Dame Fortune is a fickle gipsy,
And always blind, and often tipsy
--Winthrop Mackworth Praed, "The Haunted Tree"

I'm a huge fan of fortune cookies. I adhere to the superstition that no matter how full of lo mein, egg rolls, and sesame noodles your little tummy is, you have to eat every crumb of the cookie to make the fortune come true. If you don't like the fortune (e.g., "you are hard-working and a stickler for detail"), don't eat the cookie. Have the orange slice instead.

The really good ones I keep. There's one in the see-through part of my wallet--where my driver's license resides--that says, "Your dreams are never silly; depend on them to guide you." I see it every time I show my ID--to board a plane, to cash a check, and those laughably rare occasions I get carded.

Lately I've been getting even more cheerful fortunes in my cookies than usual. But what I want to know is: does incorrect grammar affect the power of the fortune?

Example: "Good things are coming to you in due course If time."

Hmmm...that word "If" casts a shadowy doubt on the sunny outlook. If time? What is "If time"? It sounds like something out of a Madeleine L'Engle novel. Maybe it's that alternate reality for people who spend their lives wondering what could have been. "If only I had married Sarah instead of Bertha," "If only I had taken that job in Oakland," "If only I had ordered the linguine." Etc.

The take-away message could be this: If you don't live in "If time," good things will come to you. As long as you look forward instead of backward, you will see the opportunities as they come barreling or tiptoeing down the road.

Here's my favorite, favorite ever: "Good lucks after you especially."

Somehow the plurality of luck and the missing verb make the statement even more powerful. That one was written for me. I consider myself a phenomenally lucky person, and I do believe in luck (all the lucks, just like all the Internets). Maybe it's karma or the will of God or even Manos, the Hands of Fate. People who say, "I don't believe in luck," or "You make your own luck," cling to this pathetic notion that we are in control of our lives and our world. My husband didn't do anything to ensure that there were no tractor trailers coming when the butthead in the Camaro spun him across four lanes of interstate. But here I am bringing him Advil and ice packs instead of a wreath of flowers.

How many people met their mates by pure chance? I have a friend who met her husband in a restroom of a crowded bar (he actually wasn't her husband at the time). They had no mutual acquaintances--the only thing they had in common was that they had to pee simultaneously. (Okay, the fact that they were in the same bar to begin with says that they had the whole being-young-and-cool factor in common. Neither of them was spending Saturday night at home watching The Profiler. So it wasn't totally random. But still...if either of them had just crossed their legs one more time, their future kids will never have existed ["will never have"? Speaking of bad syntax...)

We can't know how lucky we could have been. But we can all think of at least one instance where we found something or someone precious by pure chance. Ponder that a bit. Gratitude, I hear, does wonders for the blood pressure.

May good lucks after you. Especially.


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Jeri Smith-Ready

Jeri Smith-Ready is a Maryland author of books for teens and adults.

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