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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 will never know where the road not taken may have led us.

When we make the "wrong" choice, we can beat ourselves up for days, weeks, even years. In the 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 that going left has not produced the happiness Mrs. Ainslie thought it promised. However, we don't know if a different choice would have been the "right" choice.

Two incidents in my life taught me that we don't always have a choice when we think we do.

Years ago, I worked in a state institution for the developmentally disabled. The building I worked in housed bedridden residents. One day, the fire alarm went off. I had always thought that in any kind of crisis I would bolt, but I didn't.

My heart raced as I rolled the first bed through the emergency door. Then I went back for another. Each time I went back my terror of fire went with me. Even so, I ended up rolling at least 6 of those big hospital beds outdoors to safety.

Relief flooded through me when I learned that we had gone through a fire drill and not a real fire. I had surprised myself by finding that I could forget about me and focus on the needs of those under my care.

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

Several year later, I found out the truth in that proverb. My husband, our two children, and I went inner tubing. At the end of the day as we left the river, my son stumbled on the rocky bottom.. He started 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 that day I froze. I couldn’t get to my son. I couldn’t even think of how 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 that flooded through me. My son could have drowned and I had not lifted a foot or a finger to help him.

In both of these instances I had the chance to act heroically. The first involved a group of strangers, most of them in a vegetative state. 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. On that day, as I stood in the river, I learned that we never know how we will react when disaster strikes. We never know whether or not the decisions we make will turn out wrong or right, will make us proud of ourselves or ashamed.

Uncertainty remains the only certainty in the choices we face.

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