San Francisco |

San Francisco

City offers what no other can

Guest author

I passed the sign in the bookstore window on my way to work. “Discover your personal destiny. Find out your life’s purpose 12:30 p.m.” The author of a book called “The Secret Language of Destiny” would be the speaker.

Who could pass that up? At lunchtime on that very day, I could finally hear the answer to the central question of life. Not life in general, but my particular life.

When I returned to the bookstore at the appointed hour, I made my way to the second floor. The setting for my imminent epiphany was a slice of space next to the “Finance” aisle. I sat between a woman reading a book about beauty tips and a middle-aged man leafing through an accounting book, both pretty good resources for answering life’s questions in the 1990s.

I knew I didn’t belong among these seekers, though I am no stranger to the search. Like most people, I have looked to a range of philosophies from Plato to Einstein, from the Tao Te Ching to Joseph Campbell to, increasingly now, the Bible. This New Agey business, whether astrology or crystals or whatever, has little appeal for me. I’m a skeptic to the point of being a killjoy. I don’t get my palm read. I don’t read my horoscope, even for fun, because it seems stupid.

But I showed up at the bookstore at 12:30, with greater hopes for my column than my karma. The author didn’t have the Wise Man presence. He looked like Garry Shandling’s older, balder brother. He made reference to Yale medical school but clarified that he wasn’t a doctor. Yet, he said, his books are based on 40 years of “empirical research” culled in large part from living in New Age-type communities around the world. He calls his system “personology” and says it is “earth-centered” rather than “heaven-centered,” like astrology, though both are based on birthdates and astrological signs.

Something about his system has connected because, as he made sure to mention, his first book, “The Secret Language of Birthdays,” has sold 1.1 million copies. But as I tried to understand his system, he lost me somewhere among the south nodes of the 48 karmic paths.

One woman in the audience told him her daughter wanted to make a career change and needed guidance. Could he help? The author looked up the daughter’s birthday and said that her destiny is to transcend the limitations of her realist nature. Sounded a little too one-size-fits-all.

Are we so hungry for direction that we turn to the likes of Dr. Laura and these self-appointed gurus who dispense vague descriptions of our lives?

When the author had finished, I figured I might as well look up what the book had to say about me. I slipped behind the finance aisle and, on page 60, found my destiny.

“The life purpose of those on (this path) is to develop a sufficient level of detachment to be able to comment on the lives of those around them, thereby lending insight into the workings of their society,” it began. They have “a desire to illuminate, correct problems and right wrongs. Their karmic path is to observe, analyze and reflect on others both their intimates and their community.”

Lucky guess.

But I bought the book, enriching, at least, the author’s destiny. (Copyright 1999 Newspaper Enterprise Assn. Joan Ryan is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Send comments to her at her e-mail at