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Calm • Serenity

The Perils of Making Predictions

We tend to get very attached to plan As. We’ll get married, move into a house near the park, work in financial services, pivot into philanthropy and then end up in a cottage by the sea painting and looking after our grandchildren. Or we’ll become a famous actor, play in a selection of thoughtful dramas about the inner life and in time move into production – or, perhaps, mentorship.

And then life laughs. We are diagnosed with cancer; we are made redundant; we say the wrong thing, or declare bankruptcy, or get tinnitus, or become bipolar. There are around 78 major organs in the body and each one of them can go spectacularly wrong in hugely florid and rapid ways. We’re surrounded by millions of people whose aspirations are actively or passively in conflict with our own. We are acutely fragile bundles of nerves and neurons adrift in a sharp-edged random universe. The chances of something going wrong are enormous – and they will.

Painting by John William Waterhouse showing priestesses consulting an oracle in ancient Greece.
John William Waterhouse, Consulting the Oracle, 1884

What we therefore need, as much as an education in realising some of our dreams, is robust tutorship in making up alternatives. What might we do when the first marriage blows up? When the scandal hits? When our liver packs up? When our eyesight goes? When three best friends die?

We should keep our grasp on all plan As tentative and light. This is the person we’re married to…for now. This is the house we’re living in…at the moment. This is our reputation… at this point in time.

Nothing is guaranteed. But then, fortunately, nor are our requirements for survival as fixed as we may have believed. We are creatures who – when we need to – will accept easily enough that the moment has come to die. And from this underused realistic muscle flows a much underappreciated capacity to take difficult thoughts on board. We assumed that we’d always have two legs; now we’re going to make do with one. We thought we’d always be able to speak; now we need to type out our intentions on a computer. We imagined we’d never be single again; now we’re cooking for one. We thought they’d die first; now we’re arranging their funerals.

The only prediction we can rely on is that life will – with ceaseless ingenuity – outrun our finest predictions.

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