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Quasi-Stoics Lounge

The Future Has Already Arrived

January 1, 2011 by Somebody Else

If you are like me, you've spent most of your life preparing for the future. Now, granted, there's something to be said for that. People who don't plan ahead generally run into all kinds of practical problems. As you know, that's just the way things work -- or perhaps don't work -- in our modern American society. Even Dennis Hopper, that born-to-be-wild guy that he was, did a whole bunch of financial planning and investment television commercials not too long ago, and then he died pretty quickly.

What was he planning for? Maybe he was planning for his kids, wife, and perhaps other family members. Was he planning for himself? He didn't have much time left. He knew he was terminally ill. What was he going to do with all of the money he was making from doing those commercials? Maybe he was just trying to get out of debt and hoping not to leave a burden when he left this world. That's the best explanation I can think of.

So, there he was, telling us that we needed to have a financial plan, so we should invest our money into this big, massively wealthy company that is going to take a nice, fat chunk of our investment and make themselves even richer, and if we're lucky our investment will keep pace with the rate of inflation over the next decade or two. Born to be wild? That was more like born to be humiliated before checking out, if you ask me.

Life is short, folks. It will be over before we know it, sometimes literally. Who knows when that dreaded -- or fervently longed-for -- moment will finally arrive? You could be like Elvis and have a heart attack sitting on the toilet, just like that, bam, right out of the blue. Or, you could be 115 years old in some public nursing home and sitting up in your bed, waiting for someone to come by and get you a drink of water. The only thing that is certain is that, one way or another, your body and brain are going to stop working one of these days. Kind of like that used car you bought several years ago. There's no postponing the inevitable.

Go ahead and call yourself a good Christian or an atheist. Do you know how you are going to handle it when the Grim Reaper is staring you right in the face and your time has come? Are your beliefs or your lack thereof going to help you to face up to that awful moment? I'll be honest -- I fully expect to act like an undignified, frightened fool when my time comes. The rest of you can worry about what everyone else will think about your behavior as you come to the end of your road -- a whole lot of good that will do you.

Where have our lives gone? Let's think back to the beginning.

Right after we were born, our parents probably started worrying about us. For example, right after my first child was born, I saw this guy at the hospital who had also just become a new parent. He proudly told me that he had already started saving up for his newborn's college expenses. That just floored me. His child had just started breathing, and he's already saving up for college. Forget playing with toys and learning nursery rhymes. Maybe we can teach newborns advanced calculus. After all, it's a competitive society, and we've got to be prepared for the future. Prepare, prepare, prepare! What a load of horse manure that is.

So, when you are a toddler, your parents want you potty trained, and they want you to learn to read, and they want you to do well in kindergarten so that you can do well in first grade. And you are supposed to do well in elementary school so that you can excel in middle school. And you should do well in middle school so that you can sign up for the best classes in high school. And of course doing well in high school is essential so that you can get into a good college, which is important so that you can get into the best kind of graduate school, which is important so that you can get the best kind of job. And you should really give it your best on your job so that you can advance and progress and make more money, because you are going to get married and have kids and you want to be able to give them the best so that they can also go to school and get great jobs and make lots of money and get married and have children, etc. And you and all of your progeny should buy cars and big houses and lots of stuff so that you can be satisfied, and you should work and study as hard as possible so that you can be competitive, because it's a harsh, unforgiving world out there, and only the strong survive. So, you should be strong and competitive, so that you can reproduce and spread your greatness throughout the world, or at least throughout a small circle of family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.

You'll use lots of electricity generated by coal-burning power plants that dump zillions of tons of sooty smoke into the atmosphere. You'll drive several gasoline-powered cars in the course of your short life and inject even more foul contaminants into the air. You'll flush loads of your excrement and urine down the toilet and do your part to help swell up massive landfills all across the nation. You'll work at a fevered pitch and worry and fret yourself sick about money and pay your share of taxes, much of which will be used to militarily kill people throughout the world for the sake of powerful corporate interests that ultimately act as your masters.

What happens to our lives? They come and go like spring leaves that change to autumn leaves, like mornings that change into evenings, like a television series that premieres and then is cancelled. Why must we spend so much time thinking about the future, when the future is already here? What happened to today? Why do we hate today? Today stinks, today is awful, and today is no good, so maybe tomorrow will be better when we get all of our ducks in a row, when we accomplish that long-desired goal, when we get our act together, when we meet the right person, whatever. What a tragedy to believe these things.

Let me correct a few common misconceptions.

The purpose of kindergarten is not to prepare you for first grade. The purpose of kindergarten is to be a kindergartner. So, your kindergartner should get the most out of the experience, because she only gets ten months to be one. Then it's over forever. She can never be a kindergartner again. Hope it went well for her, because there can never be a second chance on doing that again.

The purpose of elementary school is not to prepare you for middle school, and the purpose of middle school is not to prepare you for high school, etc. You can follow through with this line of reasoning to the last days of your lives. Your purpose at any moment in your life is to live that same moment to the best of your ability, not for the purpose of preparing you for the future, but rather for the purpose of getting the most out of your life, period.

However old you are, you'll never get another chance to be that young again. Are you making the most of this year of your life? I don't mean by making a lot of money or by accomplishing so-called important things or winning awards and prizes and the like. I mean, are you enjoying yourself this year of your life? Are you keeping things in their proper perspective by not letting temporary setbacks get you down too much? Are you finding enjoyment and pleasure in simple things? Are you giving yourself a break and not beating yourself up and not comparing yourself to other people? Are you finding contentment within? Yes? Then you are having a good year even if you've lost your job and your financial situation is a mess. You have inner peace. Good for you.

Life is like a big, delicious orange. I hope that you squeeze it as hard as you are able and get the most sweet, refreshing juice out of it that you can. Don't wait until tomorrow to squeeze it. There is no better time than the present.

Life is too short for anger, hostility, depression, disappointment, worry, and envy. If you had everything exactly the way you wanted it, how could you face death? Let an awareness of the essential tragedy of the human condition seep into your very bones. We're all going to suffer throughout our lives, from the moment that we are pulled from the womb and cry out in shock and dismay at the cold air and bright glare, until the moment that we lie elderly and sick upon our deathbeds and find no will to "rage against the dying of the light" as the poet Dylan Thomas wrote.

Let your anger turn into peaceful calm, your hostility into detachment, your depression into a senseless joy that has no reason or motive, your disappointment into quiet acceptance, your worry into a naive certainty that things will work themselves out, and your envy into a thoroughly irrational contentment.

And for heaven's sake, don't worry about the future. It's already here. For what was once future is now present, and what was once present is now past. "Each day has enough trouble of its own." Amen.

"Won't you tell me where my country lies?" said the unifaun to his true love's eyes...