"Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." Forrest Gump
I am a planner. I like to have, in my mind, some kind of map as a guide to my next steps and I like to imagine the possible future scenarios in a way that helps me define my preferences. In other words, if life actually WAS a box of chocolates, I’d prefer it to be a Whitman Sampler, with the handy guide that lets me know exactly what I am getting into ahead of time. I have never enjoyed the experience of choosing what I thought was a toffee, only to discover it was actually a maple crème (ugh!).2017 was a year full of maple crème for me. A lot of uncertainty that left a bad taste in my mouth. A lot of difficult dilemmas, and no map or guide.
When a friend of mine’s son was a very little boy, he would always answer queries that baffled him by saying, I can’t know! instead of “I don’t know”. Of course, everyone thought this was adorable and hilarious, because it is. But in the last year I found myself facing a lot of questions to which I wanted to scream, “I CAN’T KNOW!!!”Naturally, what is adorable and hilarious in a small child’s behavior will, generally speaking, not translate well in a very middle-aged adult. Adults are supposed to KNOW THINGS; and, when we don’t, we are meant to FIND IT OUT (made so much easier these days by Big Brother! Oh…I mean, GOOGLE!). “Not knowing” is frowned upon, but to say I can’t know sounds downright defeatist.
But I will tell you something…not only is I can’t know a valid response, it’s a pretty liberating one as well. Recently, I haven’t known up from down; but ironically it is when your life is facing its greatest upheaval that people who care about you start pressuring you constantly to accurately PREDICT THE FUTURE. What are you going to do? seems to be the favorite question of those who see you dangling off a cliff’s edge while on fire.Ummm….I’m going to burn here until I let go, at which point I will plummet into the ravine. Also, why are you asking me questions at a time like this?????
I CAN’T KNOW!!!Sometimes, whether we like it or not, life becomes about the mere act of survival: making it through the day intact and making sure, to the best of your ability, that everyone else in the family does as well. Crying helps with this—just giving yourself a little privacy and having a good old-fashioned sob-fest is a good cleansing and releasing ritual. But I know, when people ask me “What are you going to do?” the answer they’re looking for is not bawl my eyes out. So I would say a little of this, a little of that, or, if feeling utterly overwhelmed, “I don’t know.”
But inside? (Scream) thinking, I CAN’T KNOW!!!“Being at ease with not knowing is crucial for answers to come to you”, says spiritual master Eckhart Tolle, which is really just a fancy way of saying “life is like a box of chocolates”. But with so many different aspects of my life spinning in so many different directions, NOT knowing felt especially terrifying. On the other hand, accepting the fact that even when we feel dead-right certain about a thing, we still CAN’T KNOW for sure how things will play out has been a really helpful thought as I waited for even one aspect of my life to get back on solid ground.
It was a loooooooooong wait. With a couple of disastrous false starts. One afternoon last fall, while grappling with the fact of an unsustainable, temporary “solution” that had manifested, I had what can only be described as a mini-breakdown.Crying? CHECK! Screaming? CHECK? Railing against the fates? HELL, YEAH!
After I finished completely and totally melting down, I went for a long walk, which is my daily solution to most stressors. I did a lot of deep-breathing, I sincerely congratulated myself on having made so long before having a serious meltdown, and then I started a one-sided conversation with my beloved Dad, who passed on 11 years ago.I explained to him how frightened and angry I was feeling; I also described to him in excruciating detail what needed to happen in order for things to even begin to get back on course. I acknowledged that I had zero control over the situation I was demanding resolve for, and therefore COULDN’T KNOW how to “fix” it. I told him that if there was any way he could help, or even just comfort me, I would greatly appreciate it.
I felt calmer when I got home; the venting, the release, admitting that even in my vulnerable position I felt worthy of my “wants” was healing. But I was still in day-to-day survival mode. Let me make it through this day and woe to you that asks what I am going to do tomorrow.A few more tomorrows came and went in this manner, with me KNOWING what I wanted but accepting the fact that under these circumstances I CAN’T KNOW how to get it. And then, less than a week later, my prayer to Pop was answered (Thanks, Dad!). Miraculously, suddenly, in a serendipitous, almost unbelievable way; in a way I could not have imagined or known.
Have you ever had a wish come true like that? I had definitely experienced little moments of magic in the past, like the day I was wishing for a white hair tie and a beautiful one appeared, perched atop a garbage can. More dramatically, when we moved to Virginia I became obsessed with a house that was already under a contract; I looked at it every day online and just kept praying that if I couldn’t have that house, one equally charming would come on the market before we had to settle for something less.Lo and behold the contract fell through and we snapped my dream house up (and it really was my dream house; I was crushed to leave it).
But this was the first time something so big and so ideal just fell out of the sky and solved several major problems at once. The relief I felt cannot be described in words; my gratitude profound. Most importantly, the reminder that while we can’t always know how things will work out, they usually do.Now, this is in no way a recommendation NOT to make plans or set goals or take action (or read the handy guide on your Whitman sampler!); all of those things really work and waiting for a miracle is NOT a strategy. However, even if you do make plans and set goals and take actions, understand that you CAN’T KNOW how it will all work out, so stay flexible and be OPEN to the possibility of miracles. Sometimes they are small (the hair tie), sometimes they are large (the dream house) and sometimes they are life-altering moments of mind-blowing synchronicity.
I can’t know how my life-altering moment came to be, but because it did I can start making plans and setting goals and taking action again. It didn’t convince me to give up and wait for answers; it convinced me that “being at ease with not knowing is crucial for answers to come to you” and that answers always come. So the next time you are stuck and you don’t know which way to turn, remember: you CAN’T KNOW.None of us can. We just do our best on a daily basis with the information we have and we have to trust that is good enough. Because the one thing you CAN KNOW for certain is this: YOU are good enough, even when you are struggling, even when you feel lost.
Adults are supposed to KNOW THINGS; and, when we don’t, we are meant to FIND IT OUT, it’s true. Just sometimes (often in fact), it is in accepting our ignorance instead of blundering and blustering our way through that the answers FIND US. When we allow that we CAN’T KNOW, we open the door to more possibilities than our limited knowledge could ever have planned for; we open the door for miracles.