There Is No Foreseeable Future

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.

2020 Vision

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?

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Love Your Neighbor: Wear Your Mask

Once upon a time, a man was given the opportunity to pay a visit to both Heaven and Hell, accompanied by a guide.

Upon arriving in Hell, he was amazed to see a long table laden with a banquet of every delicious food imaginable.  But rather than enjoying the food, the residents of Hell were arguing, complaining, crying.  It was then that he realized the only utensils available to the would-be diners were spoons so long that it was impossible for anyone to eat with them.  The condemned were doomed to suffer an eternity of longing for food they were unable to eat.

Next his guide led the man to Heaven, where he was surprised to see a nearly identical scene–the delectable banquet, the extra-long spoons.  But instead of the wailing and gnashing of teeth he had witnessed in Hell, he saw that the inhabitants of Heaven were smiling, talking with one another, even laughing–and EATING.  The difference? In Heaven, everyone was using their long spoons to feed their neighbors on the opposite side of the table.

I read this story over 40 years ago in one of my grandmother’s old Readers Digests, but I’ve never forgotten it and have often repeated it.  And it rose into my mind abruptly this week when I read a local reporter’s account of the failure of most people to wear the masks that have been recommended while in public as long as pandemic conditions continue.

Every day I read online diatribes from those who refuse to wear masks because this is America or because they are so uncomfortable or because they don’t like being forced to do anything or even because no one should tell them what to do with their own bodies.  Do I even need to tell you how ridiculous it sounds when professed pro-life Christians go around saying such things?

Here’s the real reason people aren’t wearing masks: mask-wearing has a negligible protective effect upon the wearer.  What masks do well, though, is prevent a potentially ill wearer from spreading germs to others.  I wear a mask to protect you, and you wear one to protect me.  Some especially vulnerable folks–like my friend’s medically fragile son–have difficulty wearing masks and are especially counting on the goodwill and compliance of the rest of us.

The freedom and individualism prized by Americans diametrically oppose the idea of being required to do something that only benefits others, not themselves.  However, some 75% of Americans claim to be Christians and should therefore be ready to love their vulnerable neighbor by wearing masks even if it were not required.

Instead, it would appear that we Americans are a selfish bunch doomed to a Hell of our own making.