Certainty in Uncertain Times
Our power lies not in knowing when or if this new uncertain world will change, it lies in our ability to adjust our thinking about it.
The ongoing pandemic has indelibly marked me with a sense of uncertainty. I used to make plans with the kind of certainty that believed I only had to organize it, and it would come to pass. I’ve gone from certainty to uncertainty. Let me tell you why that’s not always a bad thing.
There have been many things in the last years (both big and small) that we’ve needed to adjust or let go of entirely. Some personal big ones: my son’s wedding, an ageing parent’s 80th birthday celebration, a family trip. With all the cancellations and adjustments, it is starting to feel unrealistic to do anything at all that requires future planning.
Once upon a time, we could expend the energy and be reasonably sure to enjoy the benefits of our planning. No more. I feel at the mercy of this thing that seems never-ending. I’m tired. I’m frustrated and if I’m honest, I’m starting to feel skeptical that things will ever change. Can you relate?
The sense of uncertainty was never more apparent than in travelling to see family this past October. 10 months after my mom was tragically killed in a car accident, we finally made plans to do the overseas trip to visit my dad and go through mum’s belongings. Right up until the day before, when we received our negative Covid test results for travel, I wasn’t sure we’d be able to go. It was deeply unsettling.
The truth is, life was always precarious even though it didn’t feel that way. I used to live in the kind of blissful ignorance that believed life was mine to control. Now I know, there are many things beyond our control. Although I wish I’d never had to learn this lesson, there are gifts for me here in all this upheaval.
The immense relief I felt in being able to board that plane back in October and go and see my family was only outdone by the gratitude I felt as I hugged each one of them. The uncertainty before the trip made me savor the time in a way I never had before. These were some of the gifts – gratitude, savoring the moment and not taking things for granted.
Psychologist Susan David captures this sentiment when she says, “life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility.”
Perhaps the gift in feeling life’s fragility more is in also feeling more deeply its beauty. It’s in not missing the moments that are ordinary and as vital to us as oxygen –face-to-face conversations, the excitement of going somewhere new or the energy of being in a big crowd. It’s in finally seeing and appreciating what you already had all along.
Our power lies not in knowing when or if this new uncertain world will change, it lies in our ability to adjust our thinking about it. When we’re looking for certainty in an uncertain world, Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Victor Frankl helps show us the way when he writes:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
We can focus on how fragile our lives are, the fear that follows and stops us from doing anything while we wait this thing out, or we can allow the uncertainty to make us more courageous. We can grab the time we have with both hands and do whatever it takes to make our lives count.
In the words of Victor Frankl, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves … the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude.
If (or when) we return to a more normal time, I’m holding fast to these gifts from uncertainty: clarity about what’s important, gratitude for what I already have and courage to live meaningfully and to enjoy life now.
What are you taking away from this unsettling time?