Monday Over Coffee: "The Fog"

Published October 17, 2022 by Greg Funderburk

It's like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
— E.L. Doctorow

Not too long ago, my wife Kelly and I were in New York and caught a show on Broadway, an impressive staging of Shakespeare's MacBeth. While there are a number of striking lines in the play, one particular passage really resonated with me. Early in the first act, after a victory in battle, the heroic MacBeth and his friend, Banquo, encounter three mysterious witches who foretell that MacBeth shall become "king hereafter." And right there, the tragic flywheel of MacBeth's ambition begins to spin, leading eventually to his ruin. But the words that stuck with me most in the scene were not those of MacBeth, but of Banquo who also sought a prediction from the sooth-saying women—one about himself. "If you can look into the seeds of time," he urges, "and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then to me?"

We all have our issues with the murkiness of the future. Take me. When I'm watching a sporting event, if the score's tight, every few minutes I check the ESPN app on my phone, clicking on to what's called their Gamecast function. I then scroll down to a feature called "Win Probability," which reveals the percentage likelihood that one team will win and the other lose based on what's occurring out on the field at that particular moment. Given that the outcome of the contest is clearly not within my control, it's hard to say why I do this. I guess I'm just seeking arithmetical evidence to support my hope that my team might be able to come back if they're behind—or if my team is ahead, reassurance that they are likely to hold on to their lead. Not content to just let things play out, I lean into the future, seeking some sort of illusory control over the game's outcome.

We all want more information to bring to bear on our approach to what might be just over the horizon. But here's the thing, whether we employ high-tech quantitative analyses and mathematical algorithms or quixotic consultations with self-proclaimed psychics, the future will always remain shrouded in mystery. And, if we want to maintain a decent quality of life, we just have to be at peace with this.

The late novelist E.L. Doctorow was once asked in an interview about how he plotted out the stories in his intricate novels. He told his interviewer this: "It's like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights." "But," he added, "you can make the whole trip that way." While Doctorow's comments were about the process of writing, it rings true in a more expansive way, as well. Our whole lives transpire within just this sort of fog. In fact, the further we try to look ahead, the blurrier it gets. However, despite this fog, despite the uncertainty, despite our inability to see ahead, Doctorow is telling us that things have a way of revealing themselves to us when needed if we're able to remain attuned closely to where we actually are.

Think for a minute about the last time you were making a trip late in the evening down a dark road blanketed in a thick mist. Consider for a moment the level of concentration you brought to the task. How you slowed down to attend everything emerging from the hazy darkness ahead. Think about how you held the wheel, calibrating your steering just so, focused with your full attention on what was within your limited control based on what you could actually see. My point here isn't that we have to white-knuckle our way through life or that we ought not ever think or plan ahead, but rather I simply want to put a few questions before us. What if we narrowed down our time horizon a little? What if we focused our awareness on the present sequence of eminently visible moments and events—the things right in front of us—attending to them as they arise? What if we tried to lean more deeply into the notion that it's not beyond us to make the whole trip like this? What if we more closely embraced the present moment, trusting that things will be disclosed as needed? And what if, counting on both the hope and the reassurance our faith gives us, we relied on the notion that our God is with us always, even in the midst of the fog.

God — May I live in the moment, attending the things before me?making the whole trip relying upon You. Amen.

Greg Funderburk