In 1980, I began my career as a law clerk working at the Arizona Court of Appeals. My job was to research issues for the judge and work on draft opinions, which would then be fully reviewed, analyzed and edited until he was fully satisfied with the result. I spent countless hours examining case law and statutes, attempting, to the best of my young and inexperienced mind, to offer the correct analysis and conclusion. I was never more than a few inches away from the total fear of being wrong. Scholarly uncertainty motivated me; it demanded and inspired some of my best and clearest thinking.
As a practicing lawyer, to be right or certain about a fact, legal interpretation or desired outcome, is tantamount to being successful.
Over the years, however, I began to realize that being right was less important to me than being real. Being real often meant being unsure or uncertain; clearly not a quality my clients desired or expected when they hired me.
When I left the practice of law in 1994 to pursue my passion for Jewish learning, I knew that I would relish the freedom of starting from a place of not knowing. Graduate studies in Jewish education couldn’t have been a more perfect fit.
It wasn’t until my husband, Ray, was diagnosed with cancer, however, that I experienced the full force of living with chronic uncertainty. For in those three-and-a-half years of daily unknowns, I learned that the only thing of which I was certain was that I would somehow manage to handle each challenge as it arose.
There were times when it seemed like we were living in a minefield, tip toeing cautiously through life for fear of what might explode next. What if the CT scan came back positive? Were the side effects of treatment worse than the cure? Was there a clinical trial to help us? And the question to which we would never know the answer: How much more time would we have together?
The one thing we both knew with absolute certainty was that in the very space of not knowing — in that most precious precariousness of life — we had the chance to become our best selves. To be present to what we had, to love fully and truly, realizing that we would never know the answers to many of our questions.
After Ray died, I took many trips; staying in motion seemed to help. Sometimes I traveled to remember, other times I traveled to forget. The only thing I knew for certain was that I had to listen to my instincts. No book or grief group could tell me what I needed to do. I had to find that out for myself.
I visited my childhood summer stomping grounds and spent a week in Cape Cod. On a cold and rainy October morning, I walked on a beach in Truro that I had loved as an 18-year-old camp counselor, awash in summer romance and suntan oil. I thought about how back then, there had been no Tucson or law degree, no husband or children — not even an imagined fantasy of which they were a part.
As the tide washed clean my footsteps, it struck me that someday, perhaps 20 years from now, I might find myself on this same beach, reflecting back on all of the yet unknown and beautiful things that would and could still happen in my life. In that moment, I realized that in order to survive, we have to stay open to what we don’t know.
Slowly but surely I have come to recognize that uncertainty is not to be dreaded or feared; it is to be embraced as the portal to possibility.
It is the silver lining of my loss and the gateway to a life yet to be lived.
Staying open to possibilities and not knowing means that anything is possible.
In the end, it is how we react to the uncertainties of life that enables us to evolve and thrive.
Copyright © 2017 by the Intermountain Jewish News
Dear Amy, I hope you are doing well. I always look forward to reading your columns in the IJN. Again, I enjoyed your recent column on uncertainty. Since no one has a crystal ball that works all the time that I know of, then uncertainty is a part of everyone’s life. I can certainly relate to your experience with your husband, Ray’s (obm), illness. I think it is where uncertainty affects us the most, when it involves a loved one. I like when you talk about Ray in your column as it tells me a lot about you and the loving relationship the two of you had. My late wife and I had the same wonderful relationship and I am always mentioning her as well, even though she has been gone 7 years after fighting her illness for 4 years. The uncertainty during her illness, despite my being a physician, was still quite scary. But I agree that an optimistic open-minded outlook for the future can be a good thing in the face of uncertainty.