One thing we all like in life, whether we admit it or not, is some degree of certainty.
Many like to be super-certain. Every little detail needs to be known, planned and re-confirmed in order for them to feel in control enough to get going.
For others, routines and norms create a kind of easy, everyday certainty that allows them to keep a handle on the muddles of life and get useful things done. It is easier to concentrate on work knowing the washing machine is empty or the parking meter is paid.
For a small minority, a passport, small bag, credit card and toothbrush are all that’s needed to feel certain they have everything they could possibly need. I put myself in this last category— although I’d add Tylenol to the packing list because pain is a secret thief of time and patience.
Whatever our own appetite for certainty, it is based on some notion of consistency in our wider lives. Whatever goes on inside our heads or our hearts or indeed our homes, we kind of expect the stuff outside our front door to trundle along in the same predictable way as it has done for years.
It is reassuring in some ways that winter will turn to spring, traffic will always be hideous on Friday, your mother will always feel left out of something and solicitors will overcharge for everything. Or, as my father enjoys reminding the family at celebratory moments, “the only certainties in life are death and taxes.” (I wonder if he realizes how old he is.)
It’s not as if we can’t handle change. In fact I would argue we are brilliant at it.
If we saw what was coming at us down the track most of us would run screaming for the hills. Yet the birth of children, getting married, getting divorced, the sudden loss of a friend, or strange addition of a pet cat that was found behind the garage — somehow we handle all of this within our everyday lives.
However, there is a space in between the predictable stuff of life and the unpredictable rollercoaster that sometimes hits our private lives that has been utterly disrupted.
This is the space in which we need certainty in order to cope, a certainty that allows us to trundle along with our complicated lives.
And right now, this is the space in which we are all carrying a nagging worry that we can’t quite put our finger on. It’s a kind of tinnitus, buzzing away at the back of our brains, quietly detracting from our day, just as pain does.
Because our certainties are no longer secure.
For years we’ve lived with the absolute knowing that schools will be open and children will go to school each day and come home at night. Not for the mere act of leaving and returning, but because, as parents, we want our children to be free to learn and grow with others.
Church doors will be open for prayer, come rain or shine, whether the congregation gathers or stays in their beds. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, we carry the comfort that God will be there waiting behind the unlocked door.
Hospitals will be open and doctors ready to provide care. If cancer shows its ugly face in our family, we can get it seen — and quickly, too.
Funerals will be available, a fixed mark to signal the end of a life and the beginning of recovery. My father says he wants to be buried in a cardboard box and with no flowers. He will get his wish, but his family and legion of well-wishers will all be there to send him on his way.
Elderly folk in care homes will receive the love and consideration we would wish for them and for ourselves.
Festivals will allow us to gather in celebration, filling each other up with the joy of being together and making memories to carry us along until the next time.
These certainties are no more. Thanksgiving, funerals, elderly care, Christmas, New Year, church services — all stolen from so many of us by the tyrants in power.
And it has shaken us all, like seismic waves after an earthquake. I have talked with Californians who witnessed the earthquakes of 2019 and watched the ground ripple out in a wave ahead of them, and they say they can never quite see the world the same way again. I think this is true for all of us now.
I think our world has changed beyond repair for a generation at least. Not because of COVID itself, but because so many things that were so important to us are not certain anymore.
It reminds me of a time just after 9/11 when I was living in Manhattan and everything seemed off-kilter. Walking about the place, it was as if someone had taken the top half of a picture and shifted it over to the left so that the top and bottom no longer matched.
But — there are ways we can silence the nagging worry in our heads, or quieten it, at least. When there is so much uncertainty OUTSIDE of our front door, we need to remember the things we are certain about INSIDE of it.
I am certain Trump won the 2020 election based on legal votes. And I am certain Trump supporters will never accept Biden or Harris.
I am certain that ours is the side of joy and light. I have met too many great Americans who are in this fight for civilization not to be reassured that we will win, even if the finish line has become unclear.
And I am certain that I will not be cowed by any of the frauds who have disrupted the things we were certain of in our lives: churches, fond farewells, ceremonies of faith, respect for our elderly or the power of teaching. I have met pastors, priests, parents and doctors who refuse to take a knee to the tyrants. With them, I will resist. I will defy.
It is true of course that we are living in a sea of madness. But history shows we are most resourceful in difficult times. Together we will build islands of sanity and on these islands we will prevail.