The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably deal with. – Tony Robbins
For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream. – Vincent Van Gogh
My current consulting contract may end in a month.
Or it might be extended.
I have absolutely no idea what will happen. We are waiting for budget and forecast discussions, which always happen at this time of year.
If this had been my space a year ago, I would have been stressed – no, wait, FRANTIC would probably be a better word.
To live in such uncertainty would have almost killed the old me.
But not now. Thank God, not now.
Right now, I am CURIOUS as to what will happen. I am in a semi-pleasant state of curiosity as to what the universe may hold next for me.
How the hell did I get here, and who is this person writing these words?
I think this seed change began about a year ago, when my sister-in-law Barbara Leach Cummings died of brain cancer, only sixteen months after her diagnosis.
She died on July 20, 2017, and her passing affected me deeply, but I have not yet had the courage to write about it here on my blog.
Before her diagnosis, she was in excellent health. In fact, she was my personal model for the definition of aging gracefully.
Barbara was beautiful, but also kind. She had a multitude of interests that she pursued avidly, including yoga, gardening, interior design, horses, travel, and cooking. She had traveled extensively in her younger years, sailing multiple times across the Atlantic with her first husband in a small sailboat. After her first marriage fell apart, she lived for many years as a single working mother, striving to make ends meet for her and her young son. Later in life, she found her soulmate, and built a marriage that lasted 25 years. She had a wide and diverse circle of friends. She was a mother and a grandmother.
But most importantly, she was a lover of life, in all its marvelous messiness. She did not rush, she did not hurry, and she ALWAYS stopped to smell the roses. She was perennially late to any engagement, often distracted by a word, a thought, a flower, a piece of art, or a taste.
She had a very strong, unshakable faith in God, and at the end, surrendered gracefully and peacefully to her fate.
She was my complete opposite.
For many years, all I did was hurry. Hurry – doubt – question – worry – and plan, plan, plan.
All that worry and planning served me very well for a long time. They helped me navigate a successful career and raise two boys to manhood. The youngest graduated from law school four weeks ago. They don’t need me or my worrying and planning anymore.
Barbara’s death, and her celebration of life service tore me apart and put me back together again, with all the pieces rearranged.
I can still remember the evening we said goodbye to her.
The service was held outside, at the stables of Dream Catchers, a therapeutic riding center that provides equine-assisted activities for individuals with physical, emotional and developmental needs. Barbara was a member of the Board, and had spent hundreds of hours there volunteering and riding her favorite horse, Bob.
It was a beautiful summer evening in the country, with just a breath of a breeze. You could hear the horses softly neighing in their stalls, or chomping grass in the pasture.
There was music, there were tributes, there was wine.
There was sadness. But also love – lots of love – and joy.
When Barbara’s best friend led Bob out to pasture, one last time, at the end of the service, I could hardly see through my tears to hold my camera up. The song, Restoration, was playing.
There are days in one’s life that stand out. Days that mark the paths that we choose to walk going forward.
A few days before her death, we went to see Barbara at the Williamsburg Hospice House. We talked softly of our children, and I fed her strawberry shortcake. She was a shell of her former self, but still radiant. And still enjoying the sweet tastes of life.
There is no certainty in life.
It’s such a cliche, but it’s true.
But if we could have certainty, would we want it?
I don’t think so.
Sometimes I think I’d like to be certain about my next contract, my path all laid out clean and simple. And then other times I really don’t think I want it. It would take all the questions away; remove all the unknown possibilities and the un-lived dreams.
Barbara was certain about one thing – her faith in God and in whose arms she would be when she sailed away.
My faith in the hereafter is not as strong. I am still very much attached to life. Still full of fears, still very uncomfortable with not knowing, and asking a lot of questions.
But as a result of her death, I do know this:
Uncertainty can be your friend.
If you let it, it can make you be more present, more appreciative of what is here right now.
It can enhance curiosity, perk up your taste buds, and welcome you into a relationship of trust with the universe.
Two years ago when I went back to work, I had two options – a full time job or a contract-to-contract position. I chose the contract one, my primary ‘conscious’ reason being that I would have the freedom to take time off between contracts, to travel, to rest, or to do whatever. To-date I have had one week off between contracts. Well, so much for that plan.
Today, I wonder if perhaps there was another, more unconscious reason for my choice.
After 33 years with one company, and a rather abrupt exit, perhaps I made this choice to remind me daily that there really is nothing certain about this life.
To FORCE myself to learn to live in trust. Over and over again.
To not get TOO comfortable.
To be conscious and thoughtful about each step on my personal path going forward.
To stop and smell those flowers, because, yes, I could be dead tomorrow.
And to take time now and then to look up at the stars and dream.
I think I might just see Barbara up there, smiling down at me.