Valley Voices

Fortune comes, fortune goes and life spins on

The night hung heavy with no place to go. I sat at my kitchen table, staring at my laptop, the window across the room shut tight. It is a rare summer evening when a problem can’t be solved in my backyard, the tomatoes and roses waiting to impart their simple wisdom. But that strategy wasn’t helpful now, the weather too hot to be outdoors.

I was hunkered inside, looking for an escape, the drone of the air conditioner my company. I missed the sound of the birds and crickets.

The buttercup walls that surrounded me stood in contrast to the withering darkness on the other side of the glass. I rarely write in my kitchen. But I had succumbed to a tease and this was my lot. Malware had infected my desktop computer, and I had run away from the scene of the crime – away from my regular writing space with its cool gray walls and vista of deodar cedars. Everything seemed off.

I sat there thinking. Less than a week before, a friend’s husband had been diagnosed with metastatic cancer. She was spinning in a cloud of shock. I was trying to help her wade through the next steps, though I couldn’t do much.

Then there was my life, a good life, a life with challenges nonetheless.

I pressed my hand to my lips and continued to think. While human beings can’t erase every sorrow, our capacity to provide care and understanding is endless.

I held my first job in health care 37 summers ago, a three-month hospital internship where I worked as a nursing assistant. What I remember most from that experience is the long-term care I provided a young man who had suffered a significant and permanent brain injury. His needs were unrelenting.

He spent his days in a lounge chair not much different from your recliner at home. His elbows were contracted and stiff, lodged against his torso like two chicken wings. Textbook decorticate posturing. I couldn’t pull his arms away from his chest, which made things difficult come bath time.

His eyes flittered sideways but didn’t seem to track my movements when I hovered over him. My words didn’t register, but I spoke to him anyway. No matter how many times I pressed my soapy wash cloth into his sour armpits, I was unable to remove the pungent smell of hopelessness. Yet I kept trying. An elixir of fate and choice had brought us together.

Then four decades passed. I look around to realize that most of us have repeated a similar waltz in myriad ways. I help you – as you teach me. I teach you – as you help me. We glide within a grand ballroom, shoulders high, leaning on each other, even as our spirits waver, even as our hearts break.

When I’m primed with emotion, I tend to commit my ruminations to writing. I am fortunate to know good people who listen well, soft souls who are kind enough to feign patience when the bleeding becomes too much.

On this night, I spun the wheel of fortune. My imaginary pointer led to a particular friend, a writer more accomplished than I could ever dream to be. I began to share.

I rambled. I jumped to the point. A small clump of humor fell alongside ideas infused with sadness. By morning, he had read my e-mail and sent back some thoughts of his own.

Attached to his message was an image of a medieval rota fortunae, Lady Fortune standing behind her wooden wheel. Several powerless individuals had wrapped themselves around the impossibly large apparatus, hanging on for dear life.

As a girl, my favorite booth at our town carnival was the wheel of fortune. Sponsored by one of the local service clubs, you could test fate for a quarter.

I would approach the long checkerboard counter with a few coins in my pocket, ready to pick my lucky number. I didn’t hedge my bet, standing firm in my decision, placing hope on a chance.

More often than not, I would lose the round. But there were times that I would walk away with a pound of bacon or a canned ham.

The swells of providence are fickle. Fortune comes and fortune goes. Sometimes you win the porcine prize. Sometimes you lose your heart to the dance, arms linked as you wait for the morning light.

Danielle R. Shapazian is a nurse and writer who lives in Fresno. She can be reached at