Now and Then

There are times when people who are close to you think they know you better than you do yourself. The thing is you should know yourself best, shouldn’t you? While you try to keep an open mind about the things that are said about you, you cannot help feeling affected by what you hear particularly when it is not how you see yourself. I do find that I must not dismiss what has been said about me because there may be some truth in them and there is always room for improvement. You must of course know when to reject unkind or unconstructive criticisms when you know that their intents are far from good and they come from people you would classify as toxic. If only we could always be so clear -headed and certain about what we know about ourselves.

Decades ago, when I wanted to do law, a friend advised me against it after finding out about how fifty per cent of the students did not get through their first-year law. You must know that I was rather laid back. While I dreamt of a life full of adventures, I was clueless about how to go about it. I had been given the opportunity to study abroad. Those were my formative years and and I had an amazing time.I had my dad to thank for. My late dad always said that our destiny was in our hands. He had also said that 才(cái) mattered more than 財 (cái) thus he changed the character of his given name from 財 to 才. His name no longer meant wealth but talent. Both characters have the same pronunciation. My dad was an entrepreneur who had interest in music, Chinese culture and writing. When he was hospitalized after an operation for gallstones removal, he wrote a play featuring drug abuse and its evils. For a decade or so, he played the tenor saxophone in a band that he had formed with his friends. He also played the violin before he injured his index finger in a mishap at his own workshop. I came home after getting qualified, he said I was a changed person.

Years later, the same friend told me that her sisters had asked her why she had not done law like what I did.  I remember education had been my first choice. Perhaps if I had done a degree in education, my family would have asked the question why I had not chosen law. Every now and then, I do wonder what if I had chosen another career or lived elsewhere, what kind of vocation would it have been and where would that be. I am very much a person who can only see in the context of the present thus it is always a question of “What now?” for not really thinking too far ahead. I believe in serendipity.

We were at a dinner and one medical doctor who is in his seventies lamented that all our children are working abroad and away from home and they seem to be lost. Then someone quipped, perhaps we are the lost ones. I am curious about destiny and fate and I still am.

In Five Years  written by Rebecca Serle is masterly crafted as  the story unfolds and is narrated at a captivating pace. It is about a very extraordinary friendship between Dannie Kohan and Bella  who had known each other since they were seven years old. It is also a love story that is about fate and destiny. How do you see yourself in five years? Dannie thinks she has everything all mapped out as she navigates through her daily life. She is organized and precise. She believes in living by numbers. Here is how the story begins.

‘ Twenty-five. That’s the number I count to every morning before I even open my eyes. It’s a meditative calming technique that helps your brain with memory, focus , and attention, but the real reason I do it is because that’s how long it takes my boyfriend, David, to get out of bed next to me and flip the coffee maker on, and for me to smell the beans.

    Thirty-six. That’s how many minutes it takes me to brush my teeth, shower, and put on face toner, serum, cream, makeup, and a suit for work. If I wash my hair, it’s forty – three.

     Eighteen. That’s the walk to work in minutes from our Murray Hill apartment to East Forty-Seventy Street, where the law offices of Sutter , Boyt and Barn are located.

      Twenty-four. That’s how many months I believe you should be dating someone before you move in with them.

       Twenty-eight. The right age to get engaged

       Thirty. The right age to get married.’

Dannie is evidently a type A personality. She identified the building  where she wanted to work since she was ten years old. She is now a senior associate at Wachtell, a position she has been vying for after going through Columbia Law School and graduated second in her class. Her life is very much on track.

She has a wonderful rapport with Miles Aldridge, a senior partner of the firm who tells her that she is one of the lucky ones who knows what she wants.

 “ You are not wrong for loving what you do,” he says. “ You are lucky. Life doesn’t hand everyone a passion in their profession; you and I won that round.”

“It doesn’t feel like winning,” I say.

“ No,” Aldridge says, “It often doesn’t . That dinner, over there?” He points outside, past the lobby and the palm tree prints.

“ We didn’t cement that. You loved it because, for you, the win is the game. That’s how you know you’re meant for it.

It is June 2025. Dannie meets up with her best friend, Bella of French Italian descent. Bella tells her that she has met someone on Bumble. When Bella introduces Greg, Dannie knows this is Aaron Gregory , the man from her dream four and a half years ago.

She remembers clearly the dream she had on the night when she aced her interview at Wachtell where the ultimate question was “Where do you see yourself in five years?” That very evening  she was proposed to by considerate and equally ambitious David Andrew Rosen. But that night after much champagne, she fell asleep and woke up to 15 December 2025 with a different ring and in the company of a man who was not David. She then went to a shrink about her strange dream and left it there. For four and a half years, both she and her fiancé, David  have worked hard towards a life they both want. While they are engaged, they have not got round to marrying one another. Dannie is not one of those persons who dreams about her wedding, suddenly she finds herself in a race to marry David before 15 December 2025.  Bella tells her that she is not in love with David and that she has never really been in love. Bella  is right.  Despite her best efforts, Dannie’s five-year-plan will be altered.

In Five Years written by Rebecca Serle is one of those books you want to read in one sitting. It is an engaging read. I like the premise of the story. What a transcendental experience it must be to fall asleep and then wake up to find yourself getting a glimpse of your future.

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