By David Bornstein
The Good Word 

The universe's wish


My wife and I recently took our first vacation in years, a four-day trip to New York City.  We caught up on ourselves, on each other.  We heard the amazing Emily Wells at an outdoor Lincoln Center concert. We visited museums. We saw the 9-11 Memorial.  We walked. And walked. And walked. And we saw two plays—“The Assembled Parties,” a story that spans 20 years in the life of a once-wealthy Jewish family in Manhattan, and “The Book of Mormon,” one of the funniest and most outrageous plays to hit Broadway in years.

We expected laughs, and we got them.  We knew we’d be entertained, and we were.  We hoped to be stretched out of complacency, and even that took place. We didn’t expect to be surprised by crazy coincidences in both plays, but that happened, too.  First, there’s a Bornstein in “The Assembled Parties.”  OK, it’s not a terribly uncommon last name, but it’s not every day that it’s used in a Broadway play, either.  Then, in “The Book of Mormon,” at the beginning of the second act, when the curtain comes down to reveal an artist’s rendering of scenes from Central Florida —Shamu, Cinderella’s castle, a golfing gator...wait a second, that’s the golfing gator I had designed by a Disney artist for Polo Park, a community my father and I developed in Polk County! My wife and I both looked at it and burst out laughing.  Not only was Orlando being lampooned, but my golfing gator was on display for the world to see!

When we checked out of the hotel, I needed 66 cents to send a letter, and in my pocket I had 66 cents. When Powerball reached $400 million, I bought three tickets, and the first number on ticket 1 was 1, the first number on ticket 2 was 2, and the first number on ticket 3 was 3.  And then, when I saved a wishbone from a chicken dinner, and my son and I pulled it apart to see who would get a wish, we each got an equal part of the bone while the center joint flew in the air and landed on the ground. What the heck could that mean? Would neither of us get a wish, or both of us? As we pondered this unique, miniscule event, my wife came up with the perfect solution: Maybe it was the universe’s turn to get a wish. But if so, what would that wish be?

In numerous studies, scientists and psychologists have found that we are hot-wired to believe in coincidence. In fate. In luck. We are internally programmed to hope, to somehow assume that good things will occur, that the universe has a plan, that life isn’t random, that things happen for a reason, that God exists. We believe in love at first sight, in soul mates, in best friends forever.  We think we can control the dice, that numbers in succession call out good fortune, and there’s a reason we think this way.  It’s survival. It’s a positive, albeit naïve outlook that allows us to move forward, to expect the sun to rise, wars to resolve, the world to improve. It’s how we continue to live when life is unfair, when love is taken from us too quickly, when the good times fade and are replaced by lengthy hardship.  We don’t give up because we feel, deeply, illogically, intensely, that something good could be right around the corner. Something destined. Something planned and waiting just for us.

More times than not this isn’t the case, and we make the most of our lives, and there are good moments and bad, and love and heartache, and they may seem connected, and they may not, but we manage, mostly, to go on. And that, I think, would be the universe’s wish, and it’s one that Judaism wholeheartedly endorses. Don’t count on fate. Don’t wait for life to hand you a winning ticket.  We’re all here to make the most of ourselves, to make the world better due to our own good deeds and good decisions. Today.  Here and now. If the universe wishes for anything, I think it wishes for us to live every day doing God’s good work, assuming there’s no one watching over us, no predetermined plan other than the one we set out for ourselves. That’s what Judaism teaches, despite our natural disposition to believe in uncontrolled fate and luck.

I didn’t win Powerball, even with my incredible consecutive numbers. And the golfing gator wasn’t mine, though it looked remarkably similar. And I still enjoy experiencing the strange, quixotic coincidences that abound in life. But I don’t wait for them, or expect them to occur. Rather, I do my best to grab my days by the throat and throttle everything I can out of them.  That’s my wish for you as well.

And that’s the good word.

The opinions in this column are those of the writer and not the Heritage or any other individual, agency or organization. Send your thoughts, comments, and critiques to the Heritage or email


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