I know, I know! The title of this blog post sounds like a low-budget martial arts movie. For a moment, I thought about following that particular notion as an introduction into this post. Then thinking it over, I realized how contrived the whole thing would have been. Besides, Jet Li and Jackie Chan were both busy!
Tonight made for one of those delightfully lazy Saturday nights. There was nothing that had to be accomplished during the day and the evening promised the same comforting level of mind-numbing platitude. As the dinner hour approached, it became apparent that neither my wife or I had any desire to enter the kitchen, much more cook a meal. There was only one answer to our dilemma; Chinese food, delivered!
After an eternity of studying the endless selections to be found in the menu; we managed to settle in on a BBQ Pork Lo Mein and Sesame Beef. Naturally our feast was accompanied with egg rolls and fried rice. A brief phone call later, the challenge of tonight’s dinner was met head-on! Now it was simply a matter of staying distracted until the doorbell rang!
Invariably, the top of the Chinese restaurant delivery paper bag has a layer of sauces scattered about. Nestled amongst the foil packages and plastic containers are cellophane encased fortune cookies. It is an interesting fact that fortune cookies are completely absent in China; meaning that they were an American creation. There is some history to support the fact that the fortune cookie comes from Japan. Known as the tsujiura senbei, these cookies were filled with paper fortunes and distributed in the temples of Kyoto. Bottom line; the Chinese fortune cookie is hardly Chinese!
I have never been a big fan of the sweet cardboard-like flavor of a fortune cookie! However, I do take a certain level of delight in having my fortune revealed to me. I realize that there are probably some three dozen “fortunes” in use by the fortune cookie manufacturers, and that these prophecies are just recycled through the cookie production process. I am also keenly aware that words reproduced on a piece of paper hold no power over my life. Still, it is fun to crack that cookie open and learn my fate!
Gratitude is a virtue, and is also the parent of all other virtues.
I reread the words several times, allowing their meaning to sink into my mind. It made sense that gratitude would be a virtue. We all need to recognize that giving thanks for what we have is essential to who we are. It was the second half of the fortune that had my imagination spinning. I tried to catalogue a series of virtues in my mind; all the while attempting to see how gratitude breathed life into each of them.
There were the Four Cardinal Virtues, found in the classic Christian tradition; prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Then the Seven Heavenly Virtues from the Fourth Century BC classical Greeks came to mind. Some of these were shared with their Christian counterparts; chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. Interestingly enough, neither list seemed to include gratitude!
Beginning to feel a little hungry a few hours after our Cantonese feast (yes, the old adage seems to hold true that you are hungry all over again an hour later) I was still kicking my fortune around. The virtues that I have studied over the years all seem to revolve around how you treat others. These aspirations advise us on how to interact with the world around us. They do not seem to examine how we treat ourselves; that is, the relationship we maintain deep within.
In order to be at our best with those around us, we have to be at our best with ourselves. The ultimate question is, “how do we become at ease with ourselves?” The fortune cookie seems less and less cheesy by the moment. Gratitude is the key to our spiritual liberation. It means that we have to give thanks for everything in our lives. More importantly, it forces us to acknowledge that there is something bigger than ourselves; that we owe a debt of thanks to a higher power!
Gratitude empowers us and humbles us at the same time. It makes us feel good about who we are and at the same time keeps our ego in check. The end result is that we are then positioned to be virtuous towards others. We are empowered to help the less fortunate and to share of ourselves and our good fortune. Simultaneously, we are grounded in the fact that our virtuous acts are purely for the good of others, and not serving as sustenance for our egos.
I am certain that we will once again be ordering dinner from our favorite Chinese restaurant. It seems to be a monthly ritual in our household. The next time I have them on the phone, I will ask that they deliver one less fortune cookie. Somehow I cannot imagine any words printed on folded paper that could be more powerful than those I read, and internalized, tonight!