I'm thinking about all of this now after learning that someone with whom I spent some time--a friend of an ex--died recently. He was smarter, and far more creative, than I or almost anyone else could ever hope to be. Yet he never went to college, in spite of offers of full-ride scholarships from very respected institutions. He did well financially, and in other ways, and he wasn't boasting when he said he succeeded without much planning. In fact, very little in his life was premeditated.
The reason, he once told me, is that he knew that, for one thing, as a gay man, he wouldn't be able to live the sort of life for which schools and other institutions would have prepared him. (That, interestingly enough, is the only way in which I ever heard him talk about his sexual orientation.) And, for another, he knew--not expected, knew--that he wasn't going to live to be fifty. All of the men in his family had a congenital heart condition that killed them before they finished their fifth decade. That condition is one of the few things, along with bloodlines, that he shared with them.
So he knew that he wasn't going to be part of a nuclear family and collect Social Security in addition to a pension. You can imagine how he must have felt about paying into that system, especially because he always was a business proprietor or an independent contractor of some sort.
Why should I prepare for a future I won't have?, he asked. Had I been more aware and articulate, I would have been asked that same question. Why am I helping to plan a prom I won't attend?
The difference, of course, is that I did have a future. It just wasn't the one anyone was planning for me, or preparing me for. Some of what I did to prepare that future has been useful to me; so much else wasn't. But I can say that I do have a future of some sort, even if it isn't a very long one or one that nobody can predict. Now, in some way, what I don't have is the past--or, specifically, my past. Preparing for someone else's life, of course, meant that I was living someone else's life. And there's never any future in that.