If there's one thing we can be sure about, it's that there's nothing to be sure about. The world is unpredictable, at least the world of human events. (Physics and chemistry, along with other areas of science, are wonderfully predictable.)
Small happenings can lead to large changes.
To offer a personal example, near the end of my senior year at San Jose State College back in 1970, I was unsure about what I was going to do with my next-to-worthless, job wise, B.A. in psychology. Applying for a post office job was running through my head.
Then, as I was leaving the college cafeteria one day, I overheard a conversation between two guys. One of them said:
"No, man, you don't need to get a Ph.D. after your bachelors in psychology. Get a masters in social work degree. It just takes two years and there's jobs available after you graduate."
Until then I knew next to nothing about social work. But I liked what I'd heard. I went to the library (no Googling in those days) and looked for schools of social work on the West Coast. Turned out there was one at Portland State University.
Oregon, sweet! I thought instantly. I'd never been to Oregon. However, it had a reputation as a promised land for us hippies mired in the crowded Bay Area.
So I applied to the PSU School of Social Work, was accepted, graduated in 1973, and have worked/lived in Oregon ever since. All because of a brief overheard cafeteria conversation.
Today Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court seat occupied by the recently deceased Ruth Bader Ginsberg. This is appalling to progressives like me for many reasons. Here's two.
The hypocrisy of Republicans rushing to get Barrett confirmed before election day even though votes are already being cast, when the same Republicans said in 2016 that it wouldn't be possible to have hearings on an Obama Supreme Court pick because voters should decide who gets to choose a new justice when a vacancy occurs in a presidential election year.
The high risk of Barrett voting with other conservatives on the Supreme Court to do away with the Affordable Care Act even though the case to be heard by the court soon after election day is legally flawed -- along with the equally high risk of the court allowing states to ban abortion outright, rolling back LGBTQ rights (possibly including gay marriage), and, horror of horrors, potentially issuing a ruling after November 3 that overturns state election laws, thereby giving Trump an undeserved four more years in office.
Any or all of these things would be really bad news. And yet... I can't help thinking of the Zen, or Taoist, "good news, bad news" story.
The theme of the story is that it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to tell whether an event is good or bad, welcome or unwelcome, just by looking at the event itself. There's no way of knowing how that event will lead to other happenings that change the impact of the original happening.
Here's how the story starts off, which will give you the favor of it.
One day in late summer, a farmer was working in his field with his old sick horse. The farmer felt compassion for the horse and desired to lift its burden. So he let his horse loose to go to the mountains and live out the rest of its life.
Soon after, neighbors from the nearby village visited, offering their condolences and said, “What a shame. Now your only horse is gone. How unfortunate you are! You must be very sad. How will you live, work the land, and prosper?” The farmer replied: “Who could say? We shall see.”
Two days later the old horse came back rejuvenated after meandering in the mountainside while eating the wild grasses. Returning with him were twelve new and healthy horses which followed the old horse into the corral.
Word got out in the village of the farmer’s good fortune and it wasn’t long before people stopped by to congratulate him on his good luck. “How fortunate you are!” they exclaimed. You must be very happy!” The farmer softly said, “Who could say? We shall see.”
Now, there's no doubt that the past four years of Trump have been bad news for the majority of Americans who didn't vote for him. Of course, for avid Republicans, almost all of whom have joined the Cult of Trump, those years have been delightful, and they want four more.
But nothing lasts forever. Not bad. Not good.
As the saying goes, "The darkest hour is just before the dawn." That might not be literally true, yet it fits with the familiar Taoist yin-yang symbol. Within good, there is some bad. Within bad, there is some good. At the furthest extent of good, bad starts to make an appearance. At the furthest extent of bad, good starts to make an appearance.
Problem is, there is no way to know the timing of these swings, what will bring them about, or how long each tick of the good-bad pendulum will last. So all we can do is work as hard as we can to make the world a better place -- knowing that events beyond our control may either enhance our efforts or cause them to fail.
I've heard it frequently said, "The death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg couldn't have come at a worst time." In one sense that is true. In one sense it isn't, if we take to heart the words of the farmer in the story, Who could say? We shall see.
We will see. Not imagine. Not worry about. Not be fearful about. See.
For example, Trump is talking about not accepting the result of the election if he loses. OK. That's talk. We shall see. Trump said he would repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something better. Hasn't happened. Nothing to see there. Trump said he'd build the wall and Mexico would pay for it. Hasn't happened. Nothing to see there. Trump said he'd denuclearize the Korean peninsula. Hasn't happened. Nothing to see there.
Yet when Trump says he won't accept the result of the election, lots of progressives are freaking out, wondering if the military will help him stay in office. For now that's just talk, and Trump talks about all kinds of stuff that never happens. Again, we shall see.
Until then, be confident, be strong, vote as early as possible, and never lose hope. There always will be good times and bad times. Wisdom lies in knowing that neither lasts forever.
Ginsberg's death may spur an outpouring of votes for Biden and other Democrats. Or, maybe not. Right now we can't tell what the effect of Ginsberg dying will be. But we shall see.