Adult Uncertainty

So many people I know right now are making decisions about who they are, and who they should be. About whether their path is productive and joyous, or habitual and enervating. About whether to spend their scant time on this good project, or on that good project. One of the things that’s come from this book is that people have felt brave enough to reach out with their uncertainty, to honor me with their confusion.

The defining condition of being grown up, it seems to me, is that you do things that you aren’t certain about. Adults, if they’re any good at it, are never, ever sure about much of anything. They make decisions for themselves and on behalf of other people without any guarantees. They always know that they’re choosing between good ideas, that doing one thing that they want will make them not do another thing that they want.

And we’re not just uncertain on our own behalf, because our lives are inevitably bound with lives of others. We’re doing things now that will make people’s lives different ten years from now, or twenty. And things that will change the lives of people we don’t even know. Nobody should ever imagine that they know, really, how any of that will come out, that one of those choices is the right one and all the others are wrong. It doesn’t work like that. It’s not arithmetic, or a crossword puzzle, bounded and non-contextual.

It’s no surprise, in the midst of that turmoil, that people sometimes reach for certainty, for something that can add a stamp of external validation. Sometimes religion, sometimes political parties, sometimes thumping one’s chest on 4chan or a website comment board, all of those can be moments in which we’re temporarily relieved of the human responsibility of uncertainty and can just declare that we’re right.

Last week, I drove 450 miles down Interstates 87 and 95 and the Garden State Parkway, and then turned around five days later and drove back. That’s a lot of attentiveness and navigation and traffic awareness, and I was grateful for the rest stops that occasionally gave me ten minutes to be out of the car and in the bathroom and just off the road. They were moments of certainty that readied me for the next two hours of churn.

Rest stops are important. But I wouldn’t want to live in one, forever eating at Roy Rogers and Sbarro, comforted by the limits of the menus and the spaces, safe from all dangers. Grown-ups get back in the car and head out again to navigate the precarious, fluid world.