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Serendipity

For Mike
who taught me mythology





The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars,

but in our selves if we are underlings.
SHAKESPEARE




It all started with flirting over who should get the last pair of cashmere gloves in a department store five days before Christmas. Little did these two strangers know that in that mad holiday rush of buying presents for loved ones that they would receive that most unexpected gift of all--a chance love.

In the movie Serendipity, Jonathan Traegger (Joan Cusack) and Sara Thomas (Kate Beckinsale) meet in an underwood, fall in love with each other under a shade for a while, and then separate ways. Nothing can be cleaner.

Not that it was a one-nightstand or anything like that; the logic being was that if they were meant to be with each other, they would cross paths again in the future--in a better time, when it was "ripe" and "right"--as they did that night over a counter in Bloomingdales. The world is always too small for lovers that seek each other. But New York City would prove to be a galaxy on its own for three years, an infinite space where stars do not bump into each other accidentally twice.

The intelligent mind says that everything happens for a reason and that the stars hold the answers. The very intelligent Greeks called this Μοῖραι or "fate"; and this was personified by the three white-robed beings called The Fates. One was responsible for spinning (Clotho), measuring (Lachesis) and cutting (Atropos) the thread of each person's life. It is said that even the gods--Zeus included--were terrified of them.

Like one's death, as the Greeks believed, the shears by which Atropos cut the thread of one's life was absolute and beyond repair. Life
precariously hung on a thread, or better, was like a spider's web; no matter how intricate and precious the design you might have done with your sinewy life, all it took was a strong gust of wind or a passing insect for it to crumble. For the Greeks, all it took was one precise cut. This precisely is what being mortal meant: to be playthings of the gods.

When Sara left Jonathan hanging on a thread by leaving their chance love to chance, she was already challenging The Fates. For what if the three "sparing ones" already decided that it was at the time and place that the starry-eyed lovers meet? What if both their lives were hitherto preparation or prolegomena to that lovely winter's night? To be sure, Jonathan did not want to leave it to chance: he asked for her number, where to find her, even just her name. She declined giving him such information; but shegave him one thing: her first name, that she was Sarah.

And she also left him one pathetic gift: she wrote down her name and number on a book that she would sell in used bookshop the following day. Now she not only disobeys fate but is already mocking them. The hapless Jonathan could not get the joke.

And for years, all he had with him was a memory of a face and a name in his heart which was like any other old name. He would soon be engaged to a lovely woman his family adored, become the sports show producer he had dreamed of, even be as happy as any mortal could be. Yet what he could not stop doing was stopping at every second-hand bookstore to look for the last piece of the woman he knew he really loved. Actually, as the movie would show, he went to great lengths to find her through different means. But the gods had abandoned him now. He could not find the woman he accidentally met that fateful night in Bloomingdales.

Such was the punishment for thinking that fate was a matter of will and resourcefulness. Be careful with what you wish for: some stars reveal themselves in the night sky only once and then, like mortals, perish without a trace, without saying goodbye.

But as the movie did show--don't you just love Hollywood and its neat endings?--Jonathan and Sara would once again find each other no longer through serendipity but through a sheer passionate search. As Jonathan's friend, a writer of obituaries in the New York Times, tells him in the end,the Greeks did not write obituaries or stories of a destined but now departed life; all they asked was whether the man had passion. And the world is always too small for lovers that passionately seek each other.

The clues will always be there for someone who wants to see, a map can always be made if you know the stars, and like Theseus, you can always find your way through the labyrinth of chance if the one you seek gives you a chance--like the ball of thread Theseus received from Ariadne.

The Fates may play with it but never do they cut the thread of love.



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