George and I eat Chinese often--perhaps too much. When a good restaurant is just a mile away, and a knowledgeable chef is ready to prepare fresh vegetables and meat at a price that easily makes it worth not having to shop and cook for ourselves, why not grab a bite or two, or three, now and then.
It has been the tradition that whenever the meal is over and the waitress brings us our fortune cookies, we follow the unwritten fortune protocol: Always take the cookie nearest you. Always eat the first half before reading the fortune. If you would like the fortune to come true, then eat the second half of the cookie.
Before I proceed with the story, I would like to insert a little disclaimer. I live by certain laws and principles that govern my thinking, that supposedly leave no room for superstition or luck. I'm pretty sure fortune telling is on the "no" list as well (although that doesn't mean it couldn't happen). However, at the same time, in choosing to believe in such things as Providence and miracles, I find that my mind becomes more open to concepts that aren't necessarily explained away by the scientific method. Don't get me wrong, science and reason are pretty solid legs on which to base one's construct of life. So, I use reason, logic, and scientific method, all on a solid base of biblical principles, and for the little happenings that defy explanation and hint at loftier realms than my narrow understanding of life, well, I attribute those things to magic. After all, life is more interesting when you allow for magic every once in a while.
So, we read our fortunes to each other. Sometimes, the little script in the shell reads much like a horoscope--vague, universally applicable, and uncommitted to future prophecy. Sometimes, the words leave enough room for interpretation so that my dog or my grandma would fit the bill. Many times, we insist that the fortunes reached the wrong fingers. We laugh at the irony of some of the fortunes, think of all the possible interpretations, and leave the messages on the table without another thought.
My favorites are the ones that tell me what I want to hear. These are the ones I tuck away in my wallet to smile at later. For a while, I had an uncanny theme that recurred over the space of a couple of months: "Your name will be famous in the future." "You will find fame and recognition." "Your talents will be recognised and suitably rewarded." Isn't that happy news to any musician? Every time I read one of those, I remember my ambitions as a youngster, when I never once doubted that I was going to be famous one day. What gave me that idea, anyway? I'd given up on the whole pursuit of fame back in college, but that doesn't mean that I don't ever think about it. So, those fortunes stay just behind my ATM cards and in front of my cash.
Tonight, the summer camp menu listed ham as the main course, and although ham can be quite tasty sometimes, it does wear a little thin after seven Fridays in a row. I ordered Chinese. Chinese, like Italian, never gets old. I remembered that when picking up orders to go, I have to make sure there's also a fortune cookie in the sack. There wasn't, so I had the waitress open the cookie bag so I could pick one for the road.
Later, with Vegetables Delux rumbling along in my belly and fishing tackle in hand, I remembered the cookie. In a rush, I cracked the corners apart and ate both halves at once, nearly swallowing the paper as well. Darn it, I guess this one's going to have to come true whether I like it or not. For some reason, I got a sinking feeling. I plucked the dry paper from between my lips and chewed. Suddenly, I had no strength to swallow.
"You will visit a faraway land that has been in your thoughts."
I never should have made that promise to myself to go back, all those years ago.
But then, one of my friends was the truth-bearer, and she informed me that we would not, in fact, be okay, and that every one of us would eventually die in one horrific way or another. This news came as quite a blow, since I'd been so sure that I was special, that everything always worked out just fine for me. Death! Torture? No, I'm not ready! I was seized by panic, and I sought a way to escape. There was no way out. Panic gave way to despair and grief.
Then, a Knowledgable Presence whispered in my left ear and enlightened me to the fact that I had nothing to worry about, since all artists and musicians are birds and have wings that can fly them wherever they need to go. This was just the ticket, and I made quick use of this new insight. I spied a small window up high on the wall of our cell, so I sprouted my wings and became a bird so that I could reach the opening unnoticed. The sense of freedom I held was terrifying, since I knew that guards would soon be alerted, and would be hunting with their black hearses and search lights. I flew for the mountains, happy to brave the elements and die in the woods, rather than at the hands of the Enemy. Up through the trees, over the streams, and there I settled in the brown thicket beneath a ledge, as the patroller passed overhead.
Even as I lay awake in the darkness, I was terrified and unwilling to try sleeping again. I was a small child again, wishing for a comforting embrace to fall into. As my fear subsided, I mentally went around the house, being thankful for each and every thing I could think of. I'm thankful for my life, and my bed, and my blankets and for food, and for a free country that lets me live mostly in peace. I'm thankful for George, and for friends and family. I have another day!
This entry would sound cheesy and overdramatic to those who don't relate. But I do not mean these words to be taken lightly. You see, I have been in a place in my life when I though that I would die.
It's been eight years now, since I went overseas to Cambodia and accidentally got caught up in a war there. Cambodia's history is mostly turbulent, and in the 1970's, two million people were killed in a communist holocaust. The Khmer Rouge and their leader, Pol Pot, invaded the capital city of Phnom Penh and sent its people into the fields to be killed.
I traveled to Phnom Penh over twenty years later and found Toul Sleng, the school building used as a concentration camp, left practically as it had been found. Blood stained the floors, spilled by the countless citizens who were massacred there. I saw the tiny cells that held the prisoners, the large pots in the schoolyard that held the human waste used for torture. I saw the thousands of photos of people, young and old, who last lived there. They were all killed.
So why would I think that I would survive that attack in the summer of '97, when the Khmer Rouge once again fought for control over the city? Pol Pot and his men were there, I was three blocks from the shelling, and bullets whizzed over our heads. We barricaded the windows and doors and prayed for deliverance, but I never believed I would get out of there alive. I mourned the loss of my family and friends, my homeland. I wished more than anything that I could be brave and strong, but all I could think about was watching my companions being tortured and killed. It was too much.
Although the American Embassy there barricaded its doors from us and evacuated themselves, we were miraculously able to purchase tickets out of the country on a Red Cross plane. Standing in a crowd of thousands out on the tarmac, I looked at the holes in the walls of the airport where we had stood just the previous week. I am still overwhelmed when I think that I was one of only 160 people who got out of there that day, unharmed.
It's not that I mindfully think about Cambodia that much any more. The whole ordeal seems so out of place in the regular goings on in the life of Emily Grossman. Yet, it has been the single most impacting event of my life, and even if I'm not fully conscious of it, sometimes it finds a way to remind me that it is still a part of me, influencing my thoughts and actions even today.
It's been so long since I had a good practice session that every time I teach a lesson and hear music coming from another, I'm jealous and I get the urge to push them aside and play for myself. Forget the lesson.
I had a couple of technical difficulties in getting my computer set up, so I called the technical support line offered by my server, and found myself on hold for a total of 1 1/2 hours this morning. Good thing I had nothing else to do but play solitaire on the computer and listen to their loop of music, interrupted periodically... "Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line, and we will assist you as soon as possible..." I won two games. Slowly, the music began to have its effect on my mental state. Usually, when I'm in a hurry, it invokes rage and edgy-ness; I can smell the rubber burning as I peel my tires in anticipation, mentally composing my future letter of complaint to whatever soul-less mechanical system it is that accepts letters of customer unsatisfaction.
This time, however, I was not rushed for time; the morning was perfect for wasting, and I clicked the cards in place, looking for patterns that would carry me to solitaire victory, periodically clearing the table to begin over, like the hold-music loop, again and again.
This hold music--I wonder each time who it could have been that would particularly enjoy creating such bland drivel. Was it a musician who sold out, commercialized, and now spins out endless opuses of garbage to satisfy the corporate cubical agenda? Has there ever been anyone who was touched by the music that stalls for more time on the other end of the phone cord?
I was slowly lulled into a hypnotic state there on my computer, and found my soul falling deeper into a quiet, numbed trance, not unlike that which would be experienced if stranded on a desert island, isolated extendedly from human contact. Finally, a voice broke through: "Hello, this is Sean, how can I help you?"
What--who--what am I doing? Must speak, quickly, or else forever extinguish this spark of life transmitting through the void... "Ah, finally, you are here, and I'm old and grey, and whatever it was I can't even remember what I was even trying to contact you about, I don't even know if it's relevant anymore. But how are you this fine day?"
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