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Living with the Unknown

May 17, 2020 | by Emuna Braverman

Life is right now under whatever conditions we are currently in. Accept it.

Oh, the stress of the unknown. “If we only knew when this pandemic would end,” we tell ourselves. “We could accept it and make plans.” “If we knew when they’d have a vaccine, if we knew if you could get it twice, if we knew all its mutations, if we knew all the risks….” If, if, if…

The implication of this thinking can be troubling. If we examine it carefully, we realize that it suggests that since we clearly don’t know, then we clearly can’t accept it and we can’t make plans.

I’ve been thinking about this idea (given the increased opportunity for thinking that we have these days) and searching for its fatal flaw. Because life, of course, has many unknowns, the coronavirus being only the latest in a string of relatively small and larger ones. We don’t know what schools our children will go to, what career opportunities they (or we) will have, how stable those jobs will be, who will we marry, what kind of marriage it will be, how many children we’ll have, what their personalities will be like, their strengths and weaknesses…now that we’ve started the list is endless.

We are constantly coping with the unknown, in some situations more successfully than others. No one has coped longer and harder and more diligently with the unknown than the Jewish people. Every morning, in our prayers, we affirm our belief in the coming of the Messiah. And we specifically state that even though it’s taking a long time (i.e. thousands of years! – slightly longer than our current isolation) we still await his coming daily, imminently. We have raised coping with the unknown to an artform.

What is the secret to this that can help us in our current circumstances? I think that one of the main qualities we all need to work on is patience. I don’t mean the kind of patience where you keep your hand off the horn even though the light has turned green (one big plus of the quarantine – no traffic, no road rage – always some blessings to count) or don’t scream at your kids or your husband because they left their breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes in the sink, although we need that kind of patience these days also. I mean something deeper. I mean recognizing that we, as a people and as individuals as well, are in this (by this I mean life) for the long haul.

It sounds a little new age-y but it really is about the journey, not the destination, not the goal. And if we could really understand and internalize this concept, I think it could make a tremendous difference in our lives. Life is not a series of obstacles or roadblocks to be overcome on the way to the end goal. Neither are we stuck in some kind of waiting room until we get what we want – or think we want. Life is right now under whatever conditions we are currently in. Acceptance of this releases a lot of tension, a lot of frustration, a lot of railing against what “shouldn’t be”.

I’m not saying it’s easy but this acceptance, this patience is at the heart of what it means to have a relationship with God and to recognize that the world operates according to His agenda, not mine. This theoretically should be freeing – He clearly knows a lot more about running the world than I do – if we let it be, if we open ourselves up to it.

We need to begin by letting go of all the “shoulds” and “needs” that rule our thoughts. I should be allowed out by now. I need to see my friends. The parks should be open. I need to get a manicure. The kids need to be a school or camp.

If they’re framed as shoulds or needs, then we live in a constant state of frustration and every new announcement of continued closures brings fresh disappointment. If we live in a state of acceptance, we take a deep breath and figure out how to make the most of the situation.

Whether we live in a state or country that is mostly opened up or mostly closed, nothing has returned to its pre-corona days. Nothing has returned to “normal”. And maybe it never will. The “new normal” may be better than the old one.

Our job is to accept. To be patient with whatever situation we’re in. To accept that it’s good for us right now and that it opens up all sorts of unanticipated opportunities. It’s always a choice. We may still have our moments! But if our people can wait for the Messiah for this long with our hope intact, continuing to be productive and work on our relationship with the Almighty, then we can certainly find the inner resources to not just cope with our current situation but to move patiently and calmly through this as well.

As with any challenge in life, the key is to focus on the opportunities and blessings we do have and not on the ones we should have, we need to have, or we wish we had.

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