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I finished the last bite of rice in my bowl as I signaled for the check. The waiter brought out the bill with a small fortune cookie, and I smiled at the memory of my childhood. 


I used to come here all the time as a child, before I moved across the country. My friends and I used to take our fortune cookies so seriously, and try to see if they would come true. 


Now, I just put the cookie in my pocket with a smile, put a few bills down on the table, and walk outside to the New York City bustle. 


As much as I despise tourists, there truly is something about winter in Manhattan that just takes your breath away. I saw children gazing at the toy stores, their eyes wide in wonder at the dazzling lights and machinery in the window. The parents laughed and took the kids inside the store, and they glanced at each other with a smile. 


My heart seemed to pang for a second as I saw the couple together. No matter how many Hallmark Rom-Coms I watch each Christmas season, I still spend it alone each year. Regardless, I suppose, I did have things to be happy about.


I passed by a homeless man wrapped in several jackets and scarves, a cardboard sign in front of him. I opened my wallet and gave him the rest of the coins while fishing around inside my pocket for the fortune cookie. 


He took it with a smile, and as I started to walk away, he called out loudly. 


“Hey! Hey lady! You forgot your fortune!”


I waved him off, and told him to keep it. 


“I’ll keep the cookie, ma’am, but the fortune is yours.”


Turning around, I saw him holding a small strip of paper out to me, fluttering in the wind that was starting to pick up. 


I smiled, and took it from him, and read a few words out loud. 


“Don’t pursue happiness - let it come to you.”


“Well, ma’am, I wish you all the happiness this holiday season. And thank you for this – it made me feel a lot better.”


He grinned again, and I felt the wind whistle its icy tune. I couldn’t help but feel hopeful, despite the dismal weather, that maybe this year things would be different. That life would get better.


All because of a little fortune cookie.

In simple terms, fortune is the luck and wealth awarded to individuals. In fairytales, we see that the protagonists are rewarded with great fortunes in return for their moral and righteous behavior, teaching children the importance of kindness and nobility and leading them to believe the future will be prosperous as long as they act in a morally enough manner to deserve one. And, of course, this is an example of how fairy tales comfort through manipulation and deception. Reality is not the utopia constructed by fairy tales, because some of society’s noble individuals have faced a plethora of hardships and difficulties in their lives. We see this most evidently in the lives of successful people when they give speeches and publicly share the difficulties they faced in growing up. Not all, but a handful of successful people have honorable ethics, we see them utilize their financial gains to perform good deeds such as donating to charities and NGOs. Although many of them end up concluding that the distresses of their lifespan have been a catalyst that has motivated them to get where they are today, it’s natural for us to ponder - how is it fair that such a kind person had such a hard life? The stories of these types of successful people more accurately portray the human experience in life than the household fairytales do. Even though fairytales may inspire children to grow and act with a moral character, it also gives them an incentive that can subconsciously affect them as they grow older. The goal of fairy tales is not to suggest that children should perform good deeds with the expectation of receiving a great fortune (in whatever form that is to them), it’s difficult to deny that there’s a sense of disappointment when the world doesn’t treat you as kindly as you do the world; a concept that fairytales fail to convey. 

Cinderella, for example, slaves away with household chores under the cruel treatment of her stepmother and stepsisters. Her suffering is compensated by a fairy godmother who grants her longtime wish to attend the prince’s ball by giving her an elegant dress and carriage. Even when Cinderella makes a horrible mistake and leaves the ball after the stroke of midnight, the prince still manages to find and marry her because of a glass slipper she left behind. Of course, the prince’s search all over town to find the girl who fits the slipper reflects his romantic and determined nature, the story inconspicuously suggests that Cinderella did not get her happy ending because of the prince, but rather because of the universe. The universe was obligated to reward her with her desired happy ending - marrying the prince- precisely because she maintained a virtuous character despite being subject to the abuse and brutality of her stepfamily. In other words, her good deeds deserved great fortune. Unlike the enchanting world of Cinderella, reality illustrates that those who deserve the glass slipper of fortune don’t always fit into it. 

In conclusion, the alluring and captivating nature of fairytales is unsuccessful in portraying the reality of the non-utopian world in which we reside. While it is true that children, at such a young age,  should not be exposed to the cruelty and disappointment that sometimes is a package deal that comes with life, it’s crucial to recognize the negative effects that are glued to the fairytales soaked in a positive connotation. The message that moral character yields good fortune in the future offers a false sense of hope against the troubles that life serves. If fairytales could maintain their captivating and entertaining trait whilst also depicting valuable lessons that align better with the reality of life, they would comfort one through childhood and adulthood without the means of manipulation and deception.

the fortune cookie

By Leena Wahaj


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