Rational people know we cannot be certain about the future until it becomes the present (that’s the lastest candidate for a new list of “Quotable Quotes”). We can however sometimes see it coming. If your plane is plummeting with all its engines on fire, chances are that your estimated time of arrival on the ground has just been dramatically abbreviated (there’s another QQ). Your flying days are over and your imminent death is probable, although you may be among the lucky (?) survivors, at best a future paraplegic (stop reading this right now if you have just boarded a plane; no, don’t get off : statistics prove . . .).
In calmer, less exceptional, circumstances we sometimes wonder about the future; we either worry about it or are filled with Great Expectations, for ourselves and our loved ones. For fun, we occasionally glance at the horoscope. Once at the State Fair, we may even have consulted a fortune-teller, knowing that we were beyond being conned into taking seriously the warnings she gave us (to make her predictions of the inevitable purely good news more credible) and went away marveling that the credulous could actually believe her empty promises of a rosy future.
Tarot cards and rune-readings were never our thing. We’re not sure anyhow whether we really want to know the future, even if we could. If told they are going to die within the next six months, people take the news differently : reactions are as individual as fingerprints. As always, it depends on the liver.
The past and the present can give us clues as to what is in store for us. The state of the economy, decisions made by governments, geopolitical precedents, our own life-style, the profession and the sports we practise, the food and drink – and other substances … – we consume, all are factors in forging our future, which we face with fatalism or fear, hope or horror. Some people pretend they can predict what is going to happen, not as fairground fortune-tellers but as paid pundits, many of whom fail to foresee that stockmarket crash which is about to end their career. (Academic studies in the U.S. have established that the accuracy of futurologists’ predictions is pretty well identical with pure chance.)
The obvious answer to the Big Question – does the future offer us life after death ? – has the advantage of motivating us to make the most of the present. “Carpe diem et quam minimum credere postero” (“Seize the day and count as little as possible on the morrow”). No point either, in getting your knickers in a knot because of the past. As for the present, if it’s pleasant, enjoy it. If it’s not, keep your eyes out for every opportunity to improve it. Beyond that, “que serà serà”.
Reader : “That’s it ? I mean, almost a page to end up with … THAT ?
Me : “As the girl in the Schweppes ad says : ‘What did you expect ?” OK – how about : ‘Ad meliora contende” (“Strive for better things”); “Per ardua ad astra” (“It takes hard work to reach the stars”); or, “Hope springs eternal” ? There. Feeling better ? Fine, no worries, but that feeling won’t last. We’ll all be rooned.
P.S. This blatantly cynical send-up underlines, I hope, why so many people will continue to need religion. They need reassurance that they can call on Someone to help them face the slings and arrows of everyday life, and above all that at least they can count on a better life – when they die ! The rest of us know that the only life we have will be what we make of it. “Carpe diem” says it all.