I recently walked around the Duke campus with my eighteen-year-old daughter, her many possible futures spread out before her, each one, for this flash of a moment, an equal contender in the competition for her attention. As we walked on Abele Quad toward the East Campus bus, I saw myself at her age, waiting for the same bus in my Calvin Klein jeans and clogs, on my way to an audition at Baldwin Auditorium for a Hoof ’n’ Horn production or on my way to my first acting class—both decisions I made on a whim at her age because I never got the chance to do theater in high school.

The young me, like my daughter now, had many possible futures ahead of her. She would decide, without hesitation here and after great deliberation there, to take this path or that, and she would become, has become, this woman walking toward the bus stop. I’m told in a TED talk that the deepdown laws of physics don’t distinguish between past and future. This seems right, as I walk on West Campus with the chapel hovering over me, my daughter, and my younger self.

The future, as we generally understand it, is a static thing that exists in the distance—a thing, the future. But there are an infinite number of futures near, and mid, and far. The future is a moving target. The future is the eighteen-year-olds who have just begun the fastest-flying four years of their lives: our youth and everything they will do in the years to come. The future is five minutes from now, it is the longed-for morning during a night of no sleep, it is flying cars in the sky (my fantasy as a nine-year-old) and Star Trek and warp speed and holograms. It is environmental devastation and extinction, but also the smell of a baby’s neck and the open joy of its smile as it looks into your eyes, unimpeded by knowledge of anything but now. In the future, we can hope, things will be better in some ways: more tolerance, more equal distribution of work and food and favor, fewer unsolvable puzzles and incurable diseases. Or, we fear, it will be much worse, and in many ways: more division and less tolerance, less kindness, less compassion, greater inequality, the disappearance of some of the most exquisite life this Earth has ever seen, and, well, let’s stop there. And ask instead, what about now?

I’m at a point in my life where the future means a far different thing than it meant when I was younger. There’s a day when you wake up and go, “Wait. What?” The years that lie ahead of the eighteen- year-olds around us are full of possibilities. But as the years go by, those possibilities slough off, one by one, mostly unnoticed because they weigh so little at the time, until we are our present selves, the product of years of choice after choice as we walked toward our future.

If we embraced this, if we realized the future is in fact now, might we make better choices along the way? If we give it even a second’s thought, we realize that we never reach the future. When we get “there,” this place we keep envisioning in front of us, “there” leaps ahead, like a mirage, and we are just here again. Here and here and here. All around us is now, the future of seconds and minutes and years past. And all around us, perhaps, if those physicists are right, are the nows of the future. Perhaps, as I walked on Abele Quad toward my younger self waiting for the bus to East Campus, the chapel high above us, my daughter’s future self walked beside us saying, “I remember this.” She is, I am, you are, the future.

Terlesky ’82 is an actor who was most recently seen playing the role of Admiral Katrina Cornwell on Star Trek: Discovery, over 230 years into the future. Her stage name is Jayne Brook.

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