Elmer ate Chinese alone in a corner booth of Taste of NY Restaurant; chicken and broccoli with string beans.
Elmer used a plastic fork.
He watched a neighboring table of young people; early twenties. They were hanging all over each other, familiar in the way of youth. One girl, in a yellow sweater, was reading a fortune from her cookie. Elmer couldn’t make it out but heard the last words
Everyone laughed and Elmer smiled, tiredly.
He knew the game.
Elmer noted the fortune cookie on his table, he hadn’t even realized it was there. And his smile faded. He never ate the cookie, to Elmer they tasted like stale burnt vanilla waffles. But he used to love opening them. Especially with friends, especially with her. He realized it had been years since he’d read his fortune.
Suddenly Elmer felt a deep sadness. The kind you can only experience with age and loss. The young people’s oblivious hope was contagious and he missed that feeling, the sense of wonder and expectation in the simple act of opening and then reading a fortune. The feeling that anything was possible, that the future was going to be, somehow, better.
Elmer reached for his cookie. He worried the cellophane packaging open and cracked his fortune free.
Unfolding the small slip of paper, he read, “You can’t get there from here.”
“In bed” he whispered almost subconsciously and he smiled. Just then the girl in the yellow sweater laughed at some random jest. “There is only here,” he thought, reveling a moment longer in the wonderful stubborn naivete of youth.
His mind turned to the hospital across the street, the future he couldn’t know.
He got up and fumbled a five-dollar bill out of his pocket for the Asian daughter who had brought out his food. He whispered a prayer for her and the kids at the booth; that kindness would find them before life did.
He looked down at his fortune one last time. “You can’t get there from here.”
He had often wondered at the infuriating mystery of a God who puts such longing for “there” within the stubborn heart of the man traveling headlong down the wrong road.
“There is only here,” he thought, “And I can’t stay.”
Elmer walked out of the Chinese restaurant.
Jason Clark is a writer, producer, speaker, and lead communicator at A Family Story ministries. His mission is to encourage sons and daughters to grow sure in the love of an always-good heavenly Father. He and his wife, Karen, live in North Carolina with their three children, Madeleine, Ethan, and Eva.