The death of my husband and of my married life has left me, at times, tentative, timid, with plenty of worries about my future. What will happen to me? How will I manage? Where am I going? What will happen when my children are grown if I am still on my own? Who is here for me? How can I re-start my career? Who the hell am I now as this single mother? If I let it, fear of the unknown will take right over.
Married life has many facets. One of them is predictability, at least after you've been married for several years. When I was married, our partnership was a certainty. At the end of the day, I could always count on Ken to come home and talk with me. My many concerns for our children were shared with him, as were the many joys. He understood me. I trusted him. We fit together. Married life has many facets. Happily married life is a true gift.
Life for me today is different. At the end of the day, it's me alone, and I don't really know what that means. I didn't plan for this. I'm not quite sure how to live life in this alien world in which I find myself. It's strange and uncomfortable for me to be without my mate.
So here I am in an unfamiliar place with less predictability than I had before where I feel much less certain than I used to be. There must be an opportunity in this mess somewhere!
What I'd like to do is try to recapture the joy of risk-taking, the excitement that lies in not knowing what will come next, the acceptance of uncertainty. What better time to begin to reclaim some of my old bravery than today, in the days following my 25th Northwestern college reunion?
I wouldn't have gone at all if my good friend Polly hadn't come up from North Carolina to attend, here in Evanston, where I've pretty much stayed since I graduated. In my college days I loved nothing more than going into a crowded room not knowing who I might meet, what conversations I might have, and what might happen next. I wrote a column in the college paper, anchored the news on the college radio station, went into Chicago on my own to watch theater and write theater reviews, took on internships in New York City and Huntington, West Virginia, had boyfriends, made new friends all the time, lived in different apartments, studied a wide variety of subjects, never really thinking about security, safety, stasis. So why was I stalling an hour before our class party reunion reconsidering whether or not I should go? Why was I cleaning the kitchen instead of getting dressed?
It was that old fear of the unknown, every uncertainty and bit of insecurity rising to the surface. Will I look older than everyone else? Who will I know? What if I hate it and don't talk to anyone? What if I have a really BAD time?
Walking into the packed restaurant that held the class of '84, I felt that 20 year old self of mine emerging almost immediately as I took off into the crowd to see what I could see. I talked to total strangers, made meaningful connections to the past with people I hadn't seen in years, networked, laughed, listened, and told some of my own story. I felt connected, a part, together, like I belonged. I felt lucky.
How I would love to be able to summon more and more the sense of freedom and belonging I felt when my young adult life was in formation, when possibilities felt endless, where adventure and opportunity were right outside my dorm room door for me, and where I never expected to know what would happen next, only that it would be new and interesting, as opposed to frightening.
And so, I turn to writing to ignite the spark with a few key questions that you might want to ask yourself if you want to remember and act upon life beyond the predictable.
What do you know for sure? What are you certain about?
What unanswered question is most concerning to you now?
What do you like about the unknown? What don't you like about it?
Describe a time in your life when you let uncertainty stop you from taking action. Looking back was this a positive or negative event for you?
Describe a time in your life when you readily embraced the unknown. Remember everything...how you felt, what you did, what you said.
Writing just 15 minutes a day can make you happier and healthier, but only if you write about feelings that matter, only if you write about what moves you. Today, I want to remember that not knowing what comes next can be exciting, and very often it is. I want to accept uncertainty and let go of the idea that I need to know how everything will turn out in the end. I want to remember that even though a wonderful, dear part of my life is over, I can keep on beginning again and again. I can start again, even now, even here in the middle of my life.