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NONFICTION The proof that feng shui works isn’t a specific

outcome; if you rearrange the furniture or change the lighting you’re already realizing your control over your environment. It works because you’re moving, which is the only way to change. Even the swapping the coffee table and the couch can help people recapture a feeling of agency and believe in the possibility of other changes. Practicing feng shui, especially after 9/11, may be the closest I’ve come to making

luck. A few weeks after 9/11, I found a job as a paralegal.

My cat and I moved into a nicer apartment. My life began to feel manageable. Then, during the second night at the new apartment, one of my roommates left the patio window open and in the morning, my cat was missing. The patio led, through a series of narrow openings and curled fencing, to the roof of an adjacent house, then to another, and another. I walked these rooftops, but Zola was nowhere to be found. I waited, hoping she was just hiding, anxious about the new apartment, but by the third day it was clear she was gone. My cat, who had been my constant and sometimes only companion since college, and who had never before been outdoors, was somewhere out there on the mean streets of Manhattan, lost.

I risked my new job by calling in sick. I plastered

flyers around the neighborhood and walked streets calling her name. I felt as though the world had collapsed. My cat was gone and my life—and, it seemed, the very future of the universe—hung in the balance. Karma or chance or luck could take jobs and apartments, but taking my cat was hitting below the belt. Unlike everything else that had happened since moving to New York, this felt personal.

I took another day off work. I sat on the floor with

my legs tucked under me, feeling like a lost five-year-old. My tiny room stuffed with moving boxes suddenly seemed huge, a space I could never inhabit no matter how much unpacking or rearranging I did. The world, which a couple of weeks earlier had wobbled precariously, had simply stopped making sense. I didn’t understand the way it worked, but I knew I didn’t want to be in a world that worked this way.

Again, I found myself wandering the streets, this

time in search of something specific. When I wasn’t looking for Zola, my thoughts once again tangled like yarn, and found their way back to Vonnegut, whose life demonstrates how the world works, or doesn’t. In 1944, on Mother’s Day, his mother committed suicide. Later that year, the Germans captured Vonnegut during the Battle of the Bulge. When the Allied forces firebombed Dresden, Vonnegut was one of seven American POWs who survived; in what seems to be a stroke of bizarre luck, he happened to be working in an underground meat locker at the time of the attack.

Vonnegut smoked unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes from the age of 12 and joked about suing Pall Mall’s manufacturer: “I’m eighty-three years old. The lying bastards! On the package Brown & Williamson promised to kill me. Their cigarettes didn’t work.” In 1984, Vonnegut tried to kill himself with pills and alcohol. In 2000, he was in bed watching the Super Bowl when his ashtray overturned and started a fire. He didn’t die until 2007.

Vonnegut’s life exemplifies luck at its most confusing

and complex. He tried unsuccessfully to end his life, thereby turning luck on its head—unlucky to live and lucky to die. Then again, if he hadn’t lived through so much, he wouldn’t have written Sirens of Titan or Slaughterhouse Five. He wrote Sirens as satire because the innerworkings of life are ridiculous and our attempts to force them into order only make them more ridiculous. However, Vonnegut does believe in choice—we can choose to be victims, or to smoke three packs a day, or to laugh in the face of life’s oddities. We can choose to believe in luck, karma, coincidence, or God. We can choose to believe in our ability to react and to change the world, however much or however little.

I tried to stop grasping at cosmic explanations

for the events of that sunny Tuesday morning and for all that followed. While losing Zola was, ironically, even more personally devastating than 9/11, it provided a smaller problem to solve. If I couldn’t do anything about 9/11 and its many implications, I had to find the cat. There was simply no alternative, especially if I wanted to restore some sense of balance in my life.

On my third day off work, in the backyard of a

Nigerian art gallery about a block away, I found Zola crouched behind a woodpile, literally scared stiff. Back at my apartment, I watched her slowly realize that, somehow, she was home. Saved. The world regained a recognizable shape for both of us.

The experience pulsed with meaning. I didn’t

understand the improbability of finding her, just as I didn’t understand why I’d lost her in the first place. How much was luck and how much was me? Perhaps it didn’t matter—at least for the moment, the world spun a bit straighter on its axis and I stood straighter on mine.

The mess was still there, but it didn’t seem so bad

anymore. Just as the cranes downtown moved metal girders one by one, I picked up a piece—at first, it was as small and simple as a sock—and started moving. One thing at a time, until I could see the ground again. For the first time, I understood why people sing when they clean.


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