In a bout of “Zoom fatigue” during class the other day, I Googled the patron saint of geese. I’m sure the people who invented electricity, computers, and the internet didn’t have my goose Googling in mind as they were creating the modern world, but it is, apparently, a consequence of instant access to all human knowledge.
Anyway, Saint Martin of Tours was a French bishop in the 4th century whose feast day coincides with the goose migration (hence the goose patronage). Skimming through the story of his life for my avian answer, I came across something even more interesting: St. Martin foretold the apocalypse. Just as I’d heard predicted of Y2K, 2012, and even 2020, he believed the world would end before 400 AD.
I think we have a lot of trouble with the future. We tell stories so that their endings seem inevitable, dropping in clues and foreshadowing, cutting out irrelevant pieces. Surrounded by this logic and structure, we look for it in our own lives, hoping for hints from fortune cookies and horoscopes only to find that we can never see the causes until we’re living with the effects.
Studies have even shown that we think of our future selves as strangers. Literally unable to imagine ourselves living in the future, we naturally assume the world will end before we have to.
I’ve gotten my first emails from colleges recently, which has triggered an ongoing, future-related contemplation and crisis. It seems less daunting now that the transition from high school to college only amounts to typing a different code into Zoom every morning, but it’s been occupying my time. My calendar — briefly barren after the cancellations of virtually all of my extracurriculars — has started to fill with college seminars and virtual tours. Their structure, sense of travelling, and even just seeing the faces of people I’ve never met before add some remnants of normalcy back into my life.
But, having spent so much time in these college information sessions, they’ve started to seem eerily similar. The presentations, typically given by a recent graduate turned admissions officer who nearly always majored in psychology, cover a stock list of topics that are equal parts informative and idealized.
It’s not strange that the presentations are similar — they’re all American colleges, so of course they’re fundamentally alike — but it is strange how similarly they try to portray their uniqueness. It’s all so “We’re the perfect place for you, no matter who you are or what you want to do” that schools who don’t want everyone with air in their lungs to apply seem refreshingly honest.
By so forcefully asserting that it matters where you go to college, they make a good case that it really doesn’t. Colleges try to lay claim to the “dramatic growth” their students undergo during their four years there even though it would be more remarkable if an 18- to 22-year-old, still-mentally-developing human didn’t grow, no matter what they did with the time.
The future is uncertain. And, if 16 centuries of Doomsday prophecies have taught us anything, it’s that we’re awful at predicting it. Single choices rarely determine our fates or give us any insight into the eventual outcomes of our lives. As frustrating as it can seem while flipping through college catalogs or scouring horoscopes for suggestions, it can be comforting to not know what the future holds.
Living in a world slated to end thousands of times before I was born, it’s easier to believe it will stick around long enough for St. Martin’s geese to fly north again.
Erin Stoeckig is a junior at Mayo High School. Send comments on teen columns to Jeff Pieters, firstname.lastname@example.org.