Seeking certainty in an uncertain world

At the moment it feels like we can’t really know anything for sure anymore, so says Michelle O'Driscoll
Seeking certainty in an uncertain world

The small things are not small at all... like the winter walks with the buggy/ scooter. These small moments will become precious memories, says Michelle. Picture: Stock, posed by model

I WAS gifted the book What I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey for Christmas by a thoughtful relative.

It’s beautifully bound, with a soft beige cover, and classic font reflecting the timelessness of the content within. It’s small and compact, consisting of many chapters of no more than three pages each, divided into categories ranging from Joy and Resilience, to Connection and Possibility.

Some of the chapters begin by setting the scene with a specific story, whilst others dive straight in, getting to the point in just a few short lines.

I had listened to parts of this book on Audible in the past, but find there’s nothing like seeing the words in print for them to really land.

Winfrey is an famous broadcaster. Her back story shocks and saddens, and her rise to success inspires. She has lived through poverty and sexual assault, failed relationships and the grief of losing a child. She has also experienced the highs of wealth and fame, including 25 years presenting her own talk show in the U.S.

Despite her celebrity status, her words when pared back are very much on the pulse of what it means to be human; to love, live, lose and learn. Written pre-pandemic, it still translates well to where we find ourselves today. In her natural story-telling style, she weaves a tapestry of personal anecdotes, astute life lessons, and comforting reminders.

In those days between Christmas and New Year, whilst keeping a low profile and embracing a slower pace than previous weeks, I found myself reaching for that book and not wanting to put it down.

 I was hungry for her insights, and I think craved the certainty that the title promised. I was dying to know some stuff “for sure” myself. Maybe she could point me in the right direction?

Because at the moment it feels like we can’t really know anything for sure anymore. There is no certainty. Not when or how we’re going to emerge from this pandemic, not how best to be a parent, friend, spouse or colleague through it, and not how Covid might affect our health, finances or relationships. Goal posts keep shifting in a flurry of antigen tests, close contacts, restrictions, and booster shots. The prolonged stress is unsettling, and exhausting. Physiologically, we’re caught in permanent fight or flight, hormones pumping at a rate of knots, and no reprieve in sight just yet.

Which is why, as the New Year loomed, having to face into the usual ‘fresh starts’ and ‘clean slates’ felt premature this year. Personally, I wasn’t in the headspace for it. I half-heartedly attempted to make resolutions and set goals. But there was much to still process, understand and make peace with from 2021, before diving into what could potentially be ‘2020 too’! The bite size pieces of food for thought that was held in between the covers of this book were just what I needed.

And so I read. And read. And kept on reading. I allowed those pages to soothe and comfort, to inspire and prompt. What I gradually came to realise, cup of tea in hand and fire blazing in the background, was that a lot of this stuff I actually “knew for sure” myself already, but had forgotten in the midst of the chaos.

It was there deep down, buried somewhere, just needing to be dug out. This little book provided the shovel, the ‘aha’ moments, as Oprah likes to call them – you can’t have one unless you already knew it!

And so it was in this way that several things were unearthed from the rubble of the pandemic in my head and heart, that had up to now been lying concealed.

I was reminded that the small things aren’t actually small at all. Those winter walks with the scooter and buggy, or the spins packed into the car to see the local Christmas lights. These were small moments, but will be precious memories. So easy to forget, opt out of, or to bypass with the blinkers on.

I felt sadness thinking back on the year and how much of it I was guilty of skimming through despite my best intentions. Living from deadline to deadline gets old, fast. This reminder couldn’t have come at a better time.

I was helped to remember just how much resilience we have to tap into. I thought of all we’ve come through. This is true of everybody.

We all have a capacity to dig deep, draw on reserves and rise in the face of adversity. We’ve been doing it since March, 2020, and we’ll continue to do so beyond this pandemic. It may not be flashy or pretty, but we’re here still standing. So often I’ve thought I won’t cope with this, but then you just do.

I was reminded that nothing stays the same. It’s so easy recently to think that this situation is a permanent one. But on closer inspection, we’re in flux, in motion. How things are today isn’t how they’ll be next week. We know this! How we feel today won’t be true of our emotions tomorrow.

I’ve taken great hope from this reminder. I know this for sure! I’ve seen impermanence in action time and again. When it feels like we’re stuck at rock bottom, something shifts. We just need to hang in there long enough to get to that point.

The pages of this book reminded me that I know for sure the value of connection. The feeling of being seen, accepted and understood without judgment. The importance of quality over quantity when it comes to friendships, of silence being golden and of the richness that these relationships bring to our lives.

Nurturing those connections is so important, and something that I’ll do my best to carry forward into this coming year. Important too is being open to new connections, new tendrils of friendship in sometimes unlikely places. Too often we close ourselves off to the possibility of growing and seeking and expanding. It’s never too late, there is always room for new connection.

Now, with the New Year behind us, the book stays close to hand. My intention is to dip into it in the coming weeks and months. Every page contains a little nugget of wisdom, a truth that should serve to reset anxiety or overwhelm, or ease a discomfort. Uncertainty is inevitable, but it’s how you navigate it, knowing that while we don’t know a lot for sure, we can be absolutely certain of the important things.

And that’s really all that matters.

Michelle O’Driscoll also writes a weekly column for WoW! See Wednesday’s Echo for more.

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