A few weeks ago I posted a selection from Christopher de Vinck’s The Power of the Powerless. Since then I’ve been dipping into other books of his, including Finding Heaven, Stories of Going Home. Here’s a selection from that book:
A Prediction to Believe In
We are inundated with predictions these days. Political commentators predict the outcomes of elections before the final votes are tallied. Meteorologists predict snowstorms before even a single flake floats down from the mercurial sky. We rely on soothsayers and statisticians to determine the outcome of a football game and the behavior of the stock market. Some people in Japan claim that they can detect an illness before it strikes by scrutinizing the soles of people’s feet. There are those who fear that the world will end in 2012, because that’s when the Maya calendar runs out. People in India visit the town of Kanchipuram and pay to have their lives predicted by people who read palm leaves.
Sometimes it’s entertaining to see whether or not predictions come true. When I was fifteen years old, our black cat, Moses, deposited a wiggling, pink, four-legged newborn creature on the back porch. No one knew what type of animal it was, but everyone had an idea. My brother said it was a kitten. My sister said it would grow up to be a pig. “It’s a rat,” I announced with confidence. My mother looked down with concern. “Well, whatever it is,” she said, “it’s hungry.”
I quickly found a new eyedropper in the medicine cabinet, heated some milk on the stove, and tried feeding the mysterious animal. “Whatever it is,” I said, “it sure can drink.” We fed it day after day until, slowly, the hairless animal developed fur, wide eyes, and a long, full tail. A squirrel. Everyone’s guess was wrong.
Many predictions about the future are based on similar guesswork. We look at something, see some future shape in our imaginations, and confidently make a prediction. Often this imagined future is simply an extension of the past. The stock market will go up next month because it’s gone up for the last three. The Yankees will win the American League pennant because they’ve done so for th past three years. Our news agencies try to report stories before they happen.
It can be great fun when predictions fail. Schools in New Jersey were closed one recent winter day because meteorologists on television and on the radio predicted that we would experience one of the worst snowstorms in fifty years. They were wrong. Several inches of snow fell. I looked at my fifteen-year-old son as he entered the kitchen after sleeping until 8:30. “Why don’t you call some of your friends and go sledding? At least there is enough snow for that.”
Michael looked at me and said, “Hey, that’s a good idea.”
“I’ll pick everybody up,” I suggested, “and they can come back later for hot chocolate, and I’ll treat everyone to pizza.”
Michael logged on to AOL Instant Messenger and called friends on the phone at the same time. Within ten minutes, seven high school sophomores were all set to be picked up at 12:30. I predicted that they would have a great time. The prediction was correct.
The prediction of a catastrophic blizzard followed the pattern of many common prognostications. Something terrible is going to happen; evil will triumph as misfortune overtakes us. I think there’s a difference between predictions based on what has happened in the past or on pessimistic outlooks and predictions based on faith, hope, and goodness. I think predictions of evil are often wrong. Surely they are wrong in an ultimate sense.
I am a person of faith. My mother predicted that my brother Oliver would be the first person to greet me in heaven, and I can hold on to that prediction and believe in it because I have faith.
I say, listen carefully–and skeptically–to what the news organizations are telling you. Listen to CNN, and then look at your children being good. Read Newsweek, and then watch your loved ones live each day with stamina and courage. Don’t believe that news programs and newspapers always project what is really happening in the world, or what might happen. Do not be misled by their dire predictions. Understand that the media experts are trying to grab our attention. A fifteen year old who shoots thirteen people in a high school is terrible news. Goodness, like a rich autumn crop, is not news at all.
I liked watching that hairless animal develop into a fat, gray squirrel. I liked listening to my son’s teenage friends singing together over pizza and soda. I like thinking about dancing with my brother in heaven.
Should I listen to Dan Rather’s view of the world or my mother’s? That’s an easy choice.