It is beginning to dawn on us that making plans for the future is fraught with tension and uncertainty. Earlier this year, for example, I had planned to visit the UK but here we are, the UK is still where it is – and so am I. Neither has moved much. Then there was that plan to watch the new Christopher Nolan movie in the theatre. That is not happening either.
There’s only one thing to be done. Stop planning for the future and plan for the past where we know that we will never be disappointed. Last week I planned to be at the cricket stadium in Mumbai to watch India win the World Cup. Yes, yes, I know. Don’t be a party pooper and tell me that has already happened, and I was there too.
Fact is, I know that planning for April 2011 today might be looked down upon. But on the other hand I will not be disappointed. There will be no flight cancellations, I will not have to quarantine myself for a week or two, and there is no suspense about the result. I might even write a book about it – which party poopers (the same ones) will say I have already done.
To expect the unexpected, wrote Oscar Wilde, shows a thoroughly modern intellect. But our modern intellects have taken a beating. We expected the unexpected, and look where we are now. Some of the best moments in our lives, wrote the poet, occur when they come unexpected. Probably true. But this has taken a lot out of me, and I am happier to schedule for the past rather than the future, which is really another country. Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans, sang John Lennon, and he was onto something.
In 1989, therefore, I intend to invite V S Naipaul for dinner after spending time accompanying him on a portion of his travels for a book he is writing. In 1992 I hope to meet Nelson Mandela. And I know I won’t be disappointed because these meetings have already happened, and I won’t even have to bother writing about them because I have already done so. When in doubt, go backwards. Every person who prepares is one person fewer who panics in a crisis.
You can’t be a hundred percent ready for the future, but you can be perfectly prepared for the past. The scout’s motto – Be Prepared (for the future) – works well during ordinary times when there are no Covid viruses lurking about. But in times of pandemic, when the future is uncertain, there is only one thing to do. Plan your past. That’s where the action is.