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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

In Other Words: “In These Uncertain Times” is All Time

In literature, as in life, nothing happens suddenly - you just weren’t paying attention. Think of the tragic ending in Of Mice and Men. The reader is unknowingly prepped for the violent and heartbreaking climax. The signs were there all along but most readers don’t pay attention to the signs but upon reflection the reader realizes how each step built on the other to the climax.

You know that kitchen accident where you sliced your finger is the same thing.  Not paying attention. We only see what we give our attention.

This applies to everything in our lives. Really. Experts predicted the coronavirus pandemic years ago.  But we weren’t paying attention. We had warnings about racial and political divisions. But we weren’t paying attention. We have car accidents - generally because someone wasn’t paying attention. We stub our toes on furniture because we were not paying attention.

We tend to sleepwalk through life until something big smacks us upside the head. Then we pay attention. We’ll even say things like, “Gosh, I didn’t see that coming” or “That was so unexpected.”

So when I read headlines or hear commercials or leaders talk about “these uncertain times” I wonder where they’ve been. I can’t think of any particular time in my life that was not filled with uncertainty. We have been in a constant state of war ever since I was born. There is always personal uncertainty about career, finances, and family.  Businesses struggle daily with uncertainty. So do relationships.

We have faced the uncertainty of two World Wars, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, political assassinations, political and social protests, generational and racial divisions, riots, an oil embargo, Kent State shootings, Watergate, the AIDS/HIV epidemic, a recession, Mt St Helen’s eruption, assassination attempts, a truck bomb in the World Trade Center, the Oklahoma City bombing, Centennial Park bombing in Atlanta, race riots in Los Angeles, presidential scandal, the World Trade Center attacks, Iraq War, the southeast Asian tsunami, the H1N1 virus epidemic, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill the Gulf, the war in Afghanistan, school shootings, the Boston Marathon bomber, hurricanes, racial and ethnic divisions, and destructive wildfires throughout the American west, poisoned water in American cities, and now the coronavirus. We live in uncertain times all of the time. No time is certain.

Many of these events caught people by surprise only because they weren’t paying attention to the warning signs. Sure, we get distracted with family and career and that’s understandable, but many times we fail to recognize a potential problem until it lands at our door. Until it touches us personally, we ignore it.

And here’s the point. People call these uncertain times but all times are uncertain times. The uncertainty arises when there is a conflict between expectations and reality. Are we nimble enough to navigate or adapt to what happens? Are we able to reflect and learn from events? Can we focus on the task at hand? Because if we don’t then the only certainty will be more uncertainty.

At the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, the young protagonist stands on the porch of a neighbor and sees her neighborhood differently. That shift in perspective is important to the story and her development. If we can view the world from one or two steps away or from across the street or another neighborhood then we just might ease these uncertain times.

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