I’ve got a sure-fire prediction for you. You can bet your unwanted Christmas presents on it. Oh and the house as well. And, damn it, whilst you’re at it, throw in your life savings too. As you see, I do not have not even the slightest doubt about what I am about to say.
What can it possibly be that I am so certain of? Simple. It’s my prediction all the predictions will be wrong! You know the ones. They’re made at that time of year when we all make those ridiculous New Year’s resolutions. They are the ones that are made by the so-called wise men, the soothsayers and the gurus who tell us they’ve looked at the stars, examined the entrails, thrown the bones and consulted the oracle so they know what the future will bring.
We are all amateur armchair commentators – on a whole raft of subjects, predicting with great clarity and without a figment of doubt. We all expound with a surety that is founded only in our own conviction.
But … 2015 was the year I learned about the fickleness of life along with my limitations personally and professionally.
It’s not that I didn’t see the daily and apparently never-ending round of crises brought to us by that august body of idiots that pass for government’s around this world of ours. The ongoing mass murders, religious faction against religious faction, the stupid and childish spats between governments that bring us ever closer to some sort of war. The dictators in their never-ending lust for power and wealth, to squirrel away even more cash into their Finchley Road Post Office savings accounts … apparently enough is never enough.
In fairness to every single one of us, even the idiots in power could never have predicted or thought seriously about any of the happenings that rain down on us on a daily basis.
It’s not simply that the great defining crises of these past couple of years – the vast, and apparently never-ending flow of migrants that are sweeping into Europe from the Middle East and Africa. The rise to power of far-right government’s or the potential collapse of the EU brought to us by Brexit. Or the rise of ISIS, the horrific and barbaric jihadists now controlling much of The Middle East and leaching into not only other Muslim controlled countries, but the West as well.
None of these, or other any of the other issues that impact our daily lives were foreseen by those meant to know what’s happening in the wider world. None of the major events that have shaken our world or closer to home – our own country, were foretold by the soothsayers, the sangoma’s, or even us, the ever eloquent and knowledgeable armchair critics.
On the eve of the New Millennium, we were told to worry about a computer bug that could (and probably would, bring the technology of the world around us crashing to its knees) which in the event never occurred. Nobody prepared us for the beginning of a global war with nihilistic so-called Islamic extremists and their senseless murders, that shows no sign of ending.
2008, the year that brought us the Great Crash – the longest and deepest recession ever seen – distinguished economic commentators told us that the worst we had to prepare for was a marginal economic slowdown and a fall in house prices. In fact it was much worse, the effects of which we here at the bottom of the African Continent are still feeling today.
So the idea that our ability to look into the future is very limited, no longer seems surprising after the year I personally had.
In July of 2015, I was feeling run down and tired, accompanied by a wheezing cough. I assured anyone who asked that this was nothing to worry about. After all, I’m asthmatic and had just returned from a punishing three years in Iran, that had tired me both physically and mentally. I predicted that I would be fine, after a couple of weeks of just chilling and taking it easy. But no, my confident predictions were all wrong. It was some horrific life threatening superbug – staphylococcus, which systematically attacked my heart, lungs and kidneys.
Even when I was finally diagnosed and told the rather disturbing news that I could expect to feel ill for quite a while, I didn’t really learn the important lesson. Again and again I repeated what I was told. After surgery I’d be back at work within a short time, with my illness a mere memory. Unfortunately it didn’t work out quite like that, one surgery turned into the next and the next.
Again, I’d made the mistake of making optimistic predictions and was told repeatedly by the physicians that I was in total denial as to my health. Yes, one of my lung’s and heart were damaged but all would be fine given enough rest, recovery and rehab. That too was not quite right. Even after that month away from full-time work had turned into four and eventually six months, my sadly depleted energy levels and immune system meant that my prediction that I’d soon be ‘back to normal’ was a delusion.
Was that the fault of the experts – the doctors in this case – whom I listened to? Of course not. They didn’t know. They couldn’t know the future, they could never have predicted the apparently never-ending round of illnesses that continued to manifest themselves in my by now, ravaged body. All they could offer was their best judgment based on their years of knowledge and experience. Blaming them for the fact it didn’t all go as perfectly to plan as they and I hoped, would be as absurd as shouting at the weatherman on the TV, when he gets it wrong – again !
There is however, one prediction that is always right, the age-old adage, “shit happens”.
Does that mean we should ignore the predictions of those meant to know more than us? No. However, they should be offered up with a heavy dose of humility and a large and visible health warning. So here goes…
After a year dominated by illness and my efforts to recover from it, I was asked by some what, if anything, I had learned. This seemed to be based on the assumption that I had experienced some epiphany, or acquired some wisdom from all that time just sitting around contemplating life and even, death when no longer strapped to the roller coaster of daily existence. Sad to report, but I am no wiser than I ever was. However, there is one thing I have come to realise and to accept too. It is the limits of what we can ever know about what the future will bring. Looking back on that rollercoaster of a year, I am thankful for how it ended. My body is no longer consumed by that dreadful staphylococcus virus. My damaged heart and lungs, seem to have recovered sufficiently to allow me to do a job I love – travelling the world and interacting with so many varied cultures and societies; sharing new knowledge and skills with people that they would not perhaps have been exposed to; seeing them flourish as a direct result of what I showed them.
Moving forward, over the coming months, and hopefully years, I look forward to meeting and working with a lot of new people across many different cultures, societies and faiths. Some experiences will be fun, meaningful and rewarding, whilst others perhaps, resentful and arrogant. But they will all have a couple of things in common, they will in the main, be ordinary people like you and I. And that the future that will shape their lives and mine forever.
I look forward to listening to their stories, learning from them, absorbing new knowledge. Drinking more beer to help the new knowledge stick. All of this will stop me predicting with any certainty what the next 12 months will bring and indeed if I have perhaps learned one thing – I will no longer try !
As I near 70 years of age, life is still a constant surprise and wonder to me. We never know what will happen next, what we shall see, what experiences await. What important people will come and go from our lives. Life is change, constant change and unless we are fortunate enough to see comedy in it, change is nearly always a drama, if not God forbid, a tragedy. But after everything, and even when the skies turn dark and threatening, I still believe that if we are lucky enough to be alive, we must give thanks for the miracle of every moment of every day, no matter how flawed. And we must have faith in the Universe, and in a better tomorrow, even if that faith is not always well deserved.
I ended that year feeling reasonably fit, optimistic and with minimal residue pain. Of the many things I learned that dreadful year, it is that we should expect the unexpected, prepare for the worst, while always hoping for the best, and trying to remember – though it’s not always easy – to treasure what we already have.
To all who may read this now and in the future, I wish you all a long and happy life – may it be blessed with good health and prosperity.
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