An approach to the scary unknown.
I was leaning back in my soft gray desk chair. I’d just hung up the phone with my grandma, and my fingers hovered over the keyboard.
I inhaled loudly, and as I exhaled, my fingers tapped each key as effortlessly as a concert pianist. It was March 2020, and I was in lockdown.
My goal was to write something short, light, and uplifting which could help people navigate the dire uncertainty we faced as an entire planet.
That goal turned into What Happens in Tomorrow World?, a modern-day fable with talking toys, a giant crane game, and a courageous young girl who powerfully shows us what coping with and embracing uncertainty is all about.
But what happens when we come to the paralyzing realization that uncertainty is never-ending? What happens when we realize we can’t predict the future? What happens when the painful reality settles in, and we’re overwrought by fear and helplessness?
With the pandemic still looming, Omicron surging, and a second mental health pandemic lurking in the background, I find my fingers hovering over the keyboard once more.
My first dive into uncertainty began by attempting to understand some of the closest people to me: my grandparents. I thought about their approach to weather, their responses to unexpected news, and the ways in which they thought about situations where the unknown was the only constant.
Their mindsets turned into four distinct, yet interchangeable categories. My Grandma Elly was a pessimist — no matter the scenario, the future always seemed bleak.
Her husband, Grandpa Morty, he was chill — he faced uncertainty with indifference, a “chillaxed” belief that whatever happens, happens.
My other grandma, Grandma Harriet, she was the eternal optimist — everything always came out brighter when she was looking at it. And finally, her husband, Grandpa David, he was sage — he approached everything through a stoic lens.
He believed that we could not control the future, so we must accept it and approach it with logic.
What I learned since I introduced these four mindsets in my modern-day fable, What Happens in Tomorrow World?, where I represent these individuals by turning them into toys in a crane game — Opti, a confident lioness; Pessi, a defeated blowfish; Sage, the wise robot; and Chill, the cool slurpee — is that human beings are complex and dynamic.
They can represent each one of these four mindsets at different phases of their life. These mindsets can can also change based on the situation. And they can change based on the degree of uncertainty with which we face.
As I look at the world now and consider the new degree of uncertainty we’re presented, a sort of never-ending uncertainty, I think back to the characters in my own life, and how we have responded to situations in which uncertainty is the only constant.
I wonder if we’ll enjoy this movie.
My family and I have watched movies together for as long as I can remember. We cozy up on the couch, talk about what movies we can watch from home, and then choose one to throw on the tv while we (most often) eat a little ice cream.
Before we watch the movie, we always have a discussion about whether or not we think the movie will be good.
“It got excellent reviews, and I saw multiple talk show hosts speak highly of it,” my mom will say. She approaches uncertainty with information. She likes to be informed.
“Don’t look at me. I’ll probably sleep through it anyway,” my dad will joke. He approaches uncertainty with humor. He likes to make light of things.
“There’s a good chance it’ll be good,” my brother would say. “It got an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes.” He approaches uncertainty with analytics. He has a very scientific mind.
“How about we watch, and then assess it after?” I’d recommend. I approach uncertainty by facing it head on. I’m very experiential and don’t like to dwell on things too much before they happen.
So, there we have four new mindsets when it comes to uncertainty. Being informed, making light, being scientific, and being experiential. These mindsets have played out in other scenarios in my life over time.
There’s something wrong with grandma.
In November 2019, my Grandma Harriet visited her doctor after a routine checkup.
“There’s no good way to say this, Mrs. Gross,” the doctor addressed her. “We found cancerous cells in your colon. You have colon cancer. We’re going to have to operate, and you will probably have to go through chemotherapy treatment.”
Grandma Harriet, the eternal optimist, broke the news to us lightly. She confidently asserted that she would get through this and everything would be okay. But we didn’t know that. So, my family responded like so.
“I’m going to speak to the doctors and do some research,” my informed mother said.
“Yes, let’s gather some more information. I’ll read some of my med school textbooks and look at a few articles,” my brother, the scholarly, scientific medical student announced.
“Looks like you’ll be seeing a lot more of my face!” my dad said, making light of the fact that he was going to be driving her to all of her upcoming appointments.
“We’ll be here with you every step of the way, grandma. You got this,” I’d say, not talking too much about it, but rather waiting for the experience to actually occur.
A not so merry Christmas.
My family is Jewish, so it’s tradition that every Christmas, we order Chinese food and watch movies. We get our little family together and spend the entire day with one another.
My grandma came over this year, and it was apparent that she was skinnier. She was frailer. Something wasn’t right. After enjoying our food and watching a movie, we had a discussion about how she was feeling.
“I’m sorry to be a burden on everyone for not feeling well.”
Of course, she wasn’t a burden. We all told her that.
“I’m just scared of the future. I’m scared to start this whole palliative care process.”
With a conversation regarding something as uncertain and devastating as palliative care, I expected my family to respond as we normally would. But then we realized tears in grandma’s eyes.
And all of a sudden, mom didn’t try to be informed. My brother didn’t try to be scientific. My dad didn’t try to be funny. I didn’t wait for the experience to happen.
Instead, we all got up, walked over to Grandma Harriet, and gave her a hug.
This is my ultimate finding when it comes to uncertainty, whether it be momentary, or never-ending.
Love the people around you more now than you ever have before. By holding someone’s hand, giving them a hug, touching their shoulder, or looking them in the eye and just saying, “I’m here for you, and I love you,” we cope with the uncertain future with pride, with hope, and with togetherness.
So, maybe you’re usually full of information. Maybe you use your analytical, scientific brain to find the answers. Maybe you’re the funny one. Maybe you don’t try to think too much and just live.
No matter what you normally do, consider the world around you and think about the ones you love. Hug them if you can. Kiss them if you can. Tell them you love them. In times of dire uncertainty, this is one universal thing we can all do.
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