by Rudri Bhatt Patel
The clouds stalk my pathway as I move my footsteps across the gray pavement. My eyes dart across the sky and I notice the sun’s absence and taste the subtle, sandy anticipation of rain. My choice is simple – I halt my run, recognize the risk of rain threatening or keep moving forward. In my twenties, this decision required little thought, I’d end my jog, my stride multiplying its speed toward home. In midlife, though, I am less apt to bargain with the sky; I proceed forward and water drops hit my bare arms and trickle down my face like unexpected tears in the middle of the day.
To continue, despite the uncertainty, is foreign to me. I’ve spent most of my life banking on “guaranteed” outcomes. In grade school, I planned ahead, made my lunch the night before and mined my closet for my outfit so I didn’t have to waste time in the morning searching for clothes.The threat of a yellow piece of paper with the word “TARDY” marked in big, black bold letters caused a palpable rise of anxiety in the middle of my chest; this specific risk meant uncertainty and an unraveling I didn’t want to chance. What followed is the creation of my personal cult and total devotion to certainty. This theme predominated in my teen years – thorough studying before exams, a rigid compliance to my parents’ rules about not coming home too late, and a reluctance to challenge authority.
My loyalty to certainty didn’t waver through my twenties or early thirties. I’d struggle in places where the fog covered the road, almost like mid-flight turbulence which pops out like a jack-in-the-box when the pilot only an hour before promised a smooth ride. I’d become accustomed to the predictability in my life, a false belief all outcomes were completely mine.
This all changed when I learned my father had lung cancer. I remember listening to the words, but pinning a wall between the doctor’s explanation and what my mind interpreted. One of my first questions to the doctor was born out of my vow to certainty, “How does a man who never picked up a cigarette receive the diagnosis of IIIB lung cancer?” I thought not smoking equaled avoiding lung cancer forever. As the spindle kept spinning out of control, my dedication to certainty faltered. With each piece of news from my father’s cancer journey, my panic grew with a fervor. I kept saying over and over, “This isn’t the way it should be. He did everything right. He planned. He went to the doctor every year. He ate well, didn’t drink and exercised. How could this be?”
The first foray into uncertainty is the hardest because it’s the sucker punch, the one which is yelling, “Nothing is in really in your control.” And it’s true. It takes guts to wake up every single day and live. Because the curve ball arrives as a phone call, a news story flashing across your Facebook screen or the knock at the front door. None of us are safe. This bubble is one that is meant to be popped.
My forty-year-old self has abandoned fairy tales. There isn’t always an answer or a viable solution. Sometimes there is just the uncertainty of darkness and shaky terrain. But I suppose there is always a choice, like running through the rain headlong confronting what comes along the pathway, embracing the uncertainty like a formidable opponent in a tennis match or retreating, letting things happen to you, looking around the corner, like a scared child in the middle of the night.
In midlife, I am choosing to run through the rain.