There is no foreseeable future.
Read it again: There is no foreseeable future.
Now, this isn’t a grammar rant, though that irksome phrase cries out for one. Because, y’all, unless you believe in clairvoyance (and actually even if you do!), no one can foresee any part of the future–that time which has not yet come.
Still, the ubiquity of that utterance suggests that we think we can, and worse, that we think we should be able to. And both beliefs are a recipe for suffering, especially in the Year of Our Lord 2020.
Remember all those memes in December and January, all that clarity we were sure to experience in a year when we would all finally have 2020 vision? Now we’ve moved on to memes about that most useless of all purchases: a 2020 planner.
If you take nothing else away from this unprecedented year, I hope this is it: there is no 2020 vision when it comes to the future.
Planning and Control
Many years ago, I encountered a newspaper ad that triumphantly declared: “The secret to a happy life is planning!” Y’all, I am here to tell you that planning is NOT the secret to a happy life. (Want the REAL secret? I wrote about it right here.)
An obsession with planning reflects a grasping for control. Guess what? Not only can you not foresee the future, you also cannot control it.
Let me share a couple of examples from my own life, moving from dramatic and life-changing to small and mundane.
Nine years ago, we left town for a few days to attend a funeral. While we were gone, our house burned to the ground. I promise we did not see that one coming. That unforeseeable event changed our lives–it changed our futures. We moved to a different part of town–somewhere I never envisioned living. There were new schools and new friends for the kids, changing job opportunities and pastimes for the adults. Even my outlook on life took on an entirely new shape because of that one event.
On a smaller scale, a couple of weeks ago, Lorelei and I were making dinner. I had the whole evening planned out–I’ve coped with quarantine by devising and living by a regular daily schedule. But then Lorelei sliced open a finger while opening a can of fruit. We spent the whole evening in the emergency room–breaking our strict quarantine to hang out in the last place one would wish to go during a pandemic. That was NOT the evening I had “foreseen.”
Given 30 seconds to think, you would come up with your own examples, of course. But the truth is that not even our next breath is promised us.
Those who know me might think I’m attempting to justify my family’s haphazard existence–it’s true that we’ve always been a leap-of-faith kind of family. But I promise it’s not. I actually love planning things–more than doing them, if I’m honest. I own a Catholic Women Shine planner and I’ve used it to accomplish quite a bit while safe at home this year. It’s very natural to look toward the future–which we imagine we can foresee because generally it has a somewhat predictable shape–work, school, vacations. It’s the absence of that shape right now that is so disconcerting but which also offers us a lesson and an opportunity.
Planning and Worrying
Our attempts at foreseeing the future are especially dangerous for those with a tendency toward anxiety and a predilection for worrying. It’s called “living in the wreckage of the future” and it is a miserable way to spend your life–imagining every worst-case scenario and suffering RIGHT NOW over events that probably won’t happen. And even if they DO happen, being miserable NOW, wasting the opportunity you have NOW for happiness, won’t change anything.
I may have mentioned a time or two that we Shollys are extremely focused Star Trek fans. In the pilot episode of Deep Space Nine, Commander Benjamin Sisko finds himself explaining the concept of linear time to the god-like beings called the Prophets who exist outside of time. At one point they show him a painful memory of his wife’s death, an experience which continues to cause him guilt, anger, and grief. He says: It’s difficult to be here, more difficult than any other memory. . . this was the day that I lost Jennifer. I don’t want to be here.
One of the Prophets replies: Then why do you exist here?
This encounter helps Sisko to move forward with his life. Most of us understand that living in the past is a bad idea, but living in the future is just as bad. As Leo Buscaglia said: “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”
So I have a proposition for you. Rather than worrying about everything that could go wrong in the future–in fact, even rather than dreaming about all that could go right with it–what if you do your best to focus only on the day in front of you? What if you let yourself see the future as a beautiful surprise just waiting to unfold?