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The Certainty of Uncertainty

by Linda Jenkinson

between the devil and the deep blue sea
Photo Credit: Lubo Minar on Unsplash
One of life’s ongoing torments is the certainty of uncertainty. Every decision we make comes with at least two, if not multiple choices, often leaving us between the devil and the deep blue sea. Left–right, right–wrong. Once we choose, we never know where the road not taken might have led us. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, social-climber Jean Ainslie has waited for years to "go left" which, to her, means a first-class seat. In the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, we learn the privilege of going left has not produced the result Mrs. Ainslie desired. However, neither can we determine what the result of a different choice would be.

Two incidents taught me that our choices may often be unexpected.

When I was a young woman, I worked in a state institution for the developmentally disabled. The building I worked in housed bedridden residents. I always thought I would bolt when faced with a crisis.

Then one day the fire alarm sounded. My heart raced as I rolled the first bed through the emergency door. Then I went back for another. Each time I retraced my steps to recover another bed, terror came with me. I rolled at least six of those big hospital beds outdoors to safety, but I’m sure fear was my guide. Relief flooded through me when I learned the event was a fire drill and not an actual fire. My ability to push panic aside and focus on the needs of those under my care surprised me. I was proud.

Yet, as the old saying says, “Pride goeth before a fall.”

Several years later, husband, our two children, and I spent a summer day inner-tubing. As we left the river, my son stumbled on the rocky bottom.. He began flailing in the water, unable to find his footing again.

I had always prided myself on my swimming expertise. In my teens, I had passed lifeguard certification, but on that day I panicked. I couldn’t reach my son. I froze, unable to put one foot in front of the other as I stood in water up to my knees. My husband, a great “dog paddler” ducked under the shallow water, swam to our son and pulled him to safety. This time, it wasn’t relief but shame and humiliation flooding through me. My son might have drowned, and I had not lifted a foot or finger to help him.

In both instances, I could have done the heroic thing. The first involved a group of strangers, yet my concern for them over-rode the danger I faced and my instinct to bolt out the door. The second incident involved my son, one of the dearest people in my life. As I stood in that river, I learned we cannot be sure of how we might react when disaster strikes. Will we freeze, flee, or fight to overcome the problem? Will our decisions result in fortune or failure?

The uncertainties in life are the only true certainties.

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