By Don Arnoudse
20 year-old daughter, Sara, was in full voice, speaking rapidly with
both tension and inspiration. “Dad, there are so many things I want to
do. I’m going to Spain in the fall, but I wish I were staying on campus
[at the University of New Hampshire] so I can meet the presidential
candidates before the primary. I don’t know at all where I’m going to
live next spring. This summer, I’m interested in an internship in
Washington, DC, but people tell me it’s a great time to be on campus.
There’s another overnight leadership workshop next weekend, but I’m
just not sure if I want to go again. I might want to take an extra
semester before I graduate because there are so many courses I want to
take and I’m running out of time. I feel like I should get a job and
make some money, but I’m not sure how I would fit it all in. Everything
is just so up in the air!”
After our discussion was over, I
found myself thinking about the energy of the conversation. Sara was
bemoaning her uncertainty in the face of so many choices. She was
feeling the fear of, perhaps, making some wrong ones. She was hungry
for life, with an appetite for tasting many things, but knew that not
all of them were possible. She was exhilarated at the prospect of
working in Washington, DC with a non-governmental agency that’s focused
on serving Central America. Above all, what struck me most, in the
middle of her complaints, was how fully alive she was!
As I near
the end of my 50s, I am more conscious of how many messages I receive
telling me that security, peace of mind and comfort should be my
primary concerns at this stage of my life. I’m told that, in the elder
stages, I should remove uncertainty from my life: I should live
somewhere with well-established routines, preferably in an enclave of
people my own age who will have similar concerns, predictable
conversations and plenty of insurance to cover every conceivable risk.
The ideal reward for my years of dealing with the vicissitudes of life?
That would be a comfortable, smooth ride to the end with no unpleasant
But what if the key to staying vital and fully alive is just the opposite?
if the key to growing older is to actually choose uncertainty? To
consciously build surprises into one’s life. To vary the routines so
that one is constantly being tested with new situations, having to make
choices with imperfect data, to take risks based on one’s intuitions,
to make requests of others because the situation requires expertise,
experience and courage that are beyond one’s own reach. To wake up each
morning not knowing just what that day will bring and welcome it all
the same. To embrace the challenge of living fully as a useful exercise
of one’s body, mind and spirit.
I want to feel all my emotions
until I die: exhilaration and fear, calm and anxiety, shock and awe,
love and repulsion, boldness and passivity, peace and confrontation. I
want to experience both sun and shadow.
Above all, I want to
live in gratitude for the beauty of uncertainty and its gift of fully
engaging all of me in the great mystery of life.