I came across this quotation recently:
'The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next' (The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin).
I was reading the book for my reading group - well, when I say reading, I mean wading through it as one would wade through a swimming pool full of chicken soup: you might like chicken soup but immersing yourself in it is another thing altogether. The English language I love, science fiction, not so much.
Anyway, is that really true, that it's the uncertainty that keeps us going? We surround ourselves with routine and habit: is this our attempt to make sense or create some order out of the uncertainty? I have had a week of goodbyes, and I can tell you that all of that comes with just about as much uncertainty as I can take. The first goodbye was to a member of staff at work, who, for personal reasons decided it was time to go. It was, in my opinion, just a crying shame. Will I see her again? And then, Jimmy Saville died. I mean, aren't your childhood heroes supposed to live forever. No uncertainty about that, surely. Who will be next - Rolf Harris? That just doesn't bear thinking about, does it?
And then my parents, who had been staying with me for a week, returned home. Goodbye, again. Dickens was right about goodbyes:
'Why is it that we can better bear to part in spirit than in body, and whilst we have the fortitude to act farewell, have not the nerve to say it? (The Old Curiosity Shop, Charles Dickens)
Those routines, going through the motions, that's what he means. We can act it out, but to say it removes the uncertainty and makes it permanent. Goodbye not au revoir. So, what comes from the uncertainty, Le Guin, is hope. Hope that, yes, we will see these people again, the only uncertain part, the difficult bit, is when, but the hope is what makes the uncertainty tolerable.