Foretelling the Future

fortune-teller-w-young-girlKnowing in advance, whether through precognition, special access, or heightened powers of analysis can be both profitable and impressive. If we could predict with certainty the winner of this weekend’s Masters tournament, the biggest gainer on today’s New York Stock Exchange, or the six numbers in the Powerball lottery, we would reap a handsome profit.

But “knowing” the future can be, in most other circumstances, a curse.

“Knowing” that a heaven filled with attendant virgins and copious dried figs awaits their arrival, many otherwise hopeless Arab boys will gladly forsake their life on Earth. And exploding themselves with a backpack full of nails doesn’t seem like such a terrible idea.

“Knowing” that a retirement filled with sun, sand, and limitless rounds of golf await them, many otherwise hopeless American workers gladly toil away their working life at jobs they despise. Because the penury and crushing boredom of their corporate servitude will “guarantee” them great fun in their frolicking Seventies.

Many seemingly reasonable people employ the services of fortunetellers, palm readers, astrologists, and other practitioners of the divining arts. Let’s assume these charlatans actuallyfortune teller could foretell the future – which they can’t, of course, or they would be spending their days at the horse races, not sitting forlornly in their empty storefronts, waiting for the next desperate sucker to wander in – let’s assume they really could see ahead. Let’s assume they could somehow know what awaits their client in the next month, year, decade. Let’s assume, for a princely fee, a fortuneteller really could tell you whom you would marry, where you will flourish, when you will die.

Why would anyone want to know?

The great wonder of life is the not knowing. The great challenge is finding our own unique path on the journey of existence. The great joy is making our individual discoveries.

If our lives were indeed completely scripted, written out from birth to death by a wildly prolific author with a wicked sense of humor and a pronounced mean streak, wouldn’t all our choices, our triumphs, our failures, be rendered meaningless? If we are merely actors in a preordained (and perversely unsatisfying) drama, then the momentous decisions over which we fret are, actually, a cruel joke.

I can tell you who will win the Masters (Phil Mickelson).

But I can’t – and I won’t — tell you when you’ll meet the man of your dreams, how many children you’ll bear, or when death will come to bear you away.

Let’s be glad that no one can.

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