There comes a time in a man’s life when he must admit that things are beyond his own abilities and power to handle, and he’s compelled to seek out the help and guidance of the Great Force. This is how it is for me, now that I find myself standing at a fork in the road, getting squeezed in from both sides: home and family, and my job in the United States Army.
As soon as I reached the twenty year mark of service, my wife began to nag me on an almost daily basis to give it up and get a “real” job and start making “real” money. After all, we had five sons to provide for - three already in their teens, and two soon to be - and the costs associated with raising them had already begun to skyrocket. However, I hold an important position at a very challenging assignment of national security importance. It took many years of special assignments serving at trusted positions to get selected for this prestigious job. I’m proud to be a part of something critically important and feel a strong allegiance to my fellow soldiers, the mission, and the continued security of our nation. I also feel confident that, even on my meager salary, our family will survive the future just fine. My wife, on the other hand, vehemently disagrees, and I’m faced with having to make a decision soon, or else.
So, one day, I decide to place my trust in the hands of fate, and set off alone to a Chinese restaurant, not simply to gain some personal peace of mind time – oh no – but on a mission to seek out the wisdom of the cosmos in the embodiment of a fortune cookie. I strongly believe that the universe is in tune with my mental and emotional pain, and will bestow the sign I need to make the right decision at this pivotal point in life.
Upon entering the restaurant, I’m invited to take a seat anywhere I like. So, I choose an obscure booth toward the back, away from the noisy all-you-can-eat buffet buffoons. A server, toting a paper place mat, wrapped silverware, and menu apparently doesn’t like my choice, and insists I follow him over to another table. I give in and follow.
“Window seat much better for you,” he tells me. “Buffet?”
“No, thank you,” I reply. “I’m in the mood for some spicy orange chicken today.”
“No spicy chicken,” he emphatically stresses. “Spicy beef!”
“No,” I politely correct, pointing at the entrée on the menu. Thinking that he may have misheard me, I add, “The spicy orange chicken.”
“No spicy chicken!!” he snaps back, almost angrily, and adds more loudly. “Spicy beef!!!”
It suddenly occurs to me that they are most likely out of the orange chicken, and he’s trying to tell me that if I want spicy anything, my only choice is going to be the spicy beef. So I surrender to the occasion and order the spicy beef lunch combo and a pot of green tea. He seems pleased that I finally got the point. It doesn’t really matter. Spicy chicken, spicy beef, spicy pork …spicy cat…after all, I’m here solely (and soul-y) to receive the wisdom of the universe.
When the meal arrives, I pour a cup of steeping hot tea and slowly sip it, get lost in thought, and gaze out the window at some random place in space. My family has made many sacrifices over the years as we’ve hopped from place to place, and country to country. Perhaps it’s time we settle down into some traditional degree of normalcy. The boys could finally form some lasting friendships and go to, and graduate from, the same high school. Many I serve with at my present job would consider me a traitor of sorts, bailing on my responsibilities to the nation. Once I announced my retirement, I would immediately become a pariah, and be shunned as I waited for my last day of military service to arrive.
I realize that I have been ignoring the food set before me. The longer I sit and sip, the colder my lunch is becoming, and I find that I’ve come no closer to making a decision. Flagging down my server, I ask for a to-go box and the check. He soon brings me both, and most importantly, the fortune cookie that I trust holds the key to solving my decision dilemma.
I pack the cold, spicy beef, veggies and rice in the box, and set it off to the side. Then, I nervously take the cellophane package from the check tray and place it on the table directly in front of me. In a moment, I will have my answer. I ceremoniously free the cookie and my future, from the wrapper. A slight panic overtakes me as I realize that I cannot remember whether it’s bad luck to eat the cookie first, before reading the fortune, or not to eat the cookie first. When the server returns with the charge slips, I ask for help.
No help at all, he says, “Eat cookie. Not eat cookie. You decide.”
Okay, I guess I have to do what I think is best. I break the cookie in two, and let one half melt at a time in my mouth, along with a sip of tea. Partaking in Holy Communion with the universe has to make either way the right way. Right? Next, I take up the thin strip of paper, holding it securely between the thumb and forefinger of both hands. The time has come. What will it be, oh Great Force: my family, or my nation? I’m stunned by the answer.
It reads: “You like Chinese food.”
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