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January 04, 2011 1:38 pm

AMEND CORNER: Unexplored territory

Written by Don Amend

Well, here we are at the beginning of another year, January 1, 2011.

At least, it’s Jan. 1 as I write this. You won’t be reading it until Jan. 4, at the earliest, unless you’re one of the editors or proofreaders at the Tribune. Some of those people have the dubious privilege of reading my meanderings early.

But, that technicality aside, this essay is, as you might expect, the more-or-less customary effort by newspaper people such as I to look forward and tell you what I think the new year might bring.

The future, I must admit, is a subject upon which I am totally unqualified to write. But then, I don’t think anybody else is qualified to write about it either. The future is pretty much an undiscovered country, so anything said about it is, at best, an educated guess, and at worst, pure speculation.

Despite my lack of the gift of prophecy, though, I am well prepared to tackle this task this year due to an unusual circumstance. My perennial New Year’s Eve date went to visit her sister last Monday and got snowed in. As a result, I am celebrating New Year’s Day in solitude, except for two cats. That leaves me with an extended period of time available for contemplation, since the cats, for the most part, aren’t very good conversationalists, and they are no help at all in such diversions as the New York Times crossword puzzle. That factor, coupled with my disinterest in college football and lack of a television have given me a golden opportunity to contemplate the future.

My first thought is that, according to predictions I have heard over the years, there shouldn’t even be a future to contemplate. In fact, we shouldn’t even have a present to be concerned about. Being a habitual churchgoer, I’ve been hearing dire stories about Armageddon and the end of the age all my life. I once heard a preacher predict that we only had about five years left before Armageddon. He based his prediction on events in the Middle East and the Soviet Union that he connected with something he had read in the Bible.

Well, at the time of that prediction, my oldest child was in middle school. Now she’s the mother of two and looking forward to turning 40 in February, so obviously this preacher had misread the signs. Still, there are those who think that the predicted big battle is imminent, and every time an Israeli and an Arab glare at each other, somebody starts talking about the end of the world.

Along those same lines, most of you probably remember the dither everybody was in as 1999 came to its close. According to the alarmists, massive computer failure would have airplanes falling out of the sky, electrical systems shutting down and grocery stores running out of groceries. In fact, the year turned over pretty peacefully, with all the noise being generated by gigantic parties around the world, not falling 747s.

Politicians, of course are good for wild predictions as well. Every election is followed by rosy predictions of prosperity or dire warnings of doom, predictions which the two parties trade back and forth depending on which side actually won the election. For the past two years, Republicans have been issuing totally ridiculous predictions about the destruction of the Constitution and the advent of a Nazi dictatorship under Barack Obama. More recently the tables turned, and I’m sure we’ll hear predictions of disaster from the Democrats, which I’m betting won’t come true either.

There are, of course, useful predictions that have some basis in reality. For example, economic forecasts can help you decide whether to retire or sell your house, and weather reports can tell you whether you should go fishing this weekend or stay home by the fire. It’s also a good idea to take precautions when scientists predict a flu epidemic, even though the last couple of predicted epidemics turned out to be less lethal than predicted.

Still, the whole thing about the future is that it’s an undiscovered country. Entering 2011 is like heading down a mountain trail that you’ve never walked on before. You never know what’s around the next bend in the path. It might be a steep hill to climb, a place to stop and enjoy the scenery, or an angry grizzly.

This year, like every year, will be a mixture of triumphs and disasters, and most of us will experience some of each. It’s all part of the adventure of being alive. You can predict and prepare, but it’s pretty much a given that, on some occasion, you will be surprised and confused by the way things turn out. Rounding that bend in the trail may bring rewards and pleasures, or it might bring pain, maybe even the end of the world.

Well, I won’t say I’m totally prepared to deal with whatever I encounter in 2011, but, like all of you, I’m going to start the trip anyway. Personally, I’m looking forward to the adventure of finding out what’s around that next bend.

Happy New Year, everybody.

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