In search of certainty

Here we are again, the new year gleaming in our pockets like a newly-minted penny. It’s a time when somehow the slate feels cleaner than usual, with possibilities lurking everywhere. I could take on this or that new activity, we say; I could become Uncertainty 6accomplished at something or other, or smarten up a miserable way of being. The possibilities are exhilarating, but at the same time daunting, and we seek to put a little certainty into life by making New Year’s resolutions.

Resolutions get their share of bad press, but we Shedders have found it useful to weave them into our new year. Over a glass of wine, we take turns reviewing the year past, then, usually the following day, declare what we intend to happen in the coming one. We take our time with the process, listening fully to each other and asking questions to clarify. We find it gives meaning to the undisciplined past and shape to the unknowable future.

For me, I enjoyed the review. Yes, I had my surgery, and prepared for it satisfactorily. Yes, I took on the piano, and got to almost where I left off 45 years ago. No, I didn’t finish the Shed renovation. No, we didn’t buy a caravan, but we did get a double Hobie kayak. Yes, we had a snorkelling holiday, though at Lady Elliot Island rather than Niue. No, I didn’t implement a daily meditation practice, but mindfulness became a watchword in my life as never before. Yes, I implemented an excellent new exercise program. Et cetera.

So you can see that the thinking and resolving I did at the beginning of the year made a difference in how the months unfolded. A few things that weren’t in the going-to-happen-anyway mix got seeded, took root and bore fruit. A few things didn’t get seeded, or didn’t take root, or didn’t bear fruit, and turned out to be learning experiences instead. Without doubt, I learned something from each one. About myself, about reality, about what I really want in life. The forward thinking provided direction and a little certainty to life.

The following day we tackled the coming year. That posed challenges, with the uncertain recovery of my ankle creating waves of insecurity for me. How can I commit to things when I don’t know when and how well I’ll be walking? Surely mobility is key to everything.


Hold that thought and flash back to several weeks ago when I sat in the office of the surgeon who performed my ankle fusion. I was fresh out of the cast-removal clinic and my leg, which had been fibreglass-bound for ten weeks, glowed vulnerably in front of me. I asked the doctor lots of questions and got reasonable answers; there’s no doubt he wants me to do well and has some picture in his mind of what it’ll take for that to happen. But he was evasive about physiotherapy, about the amount of pain I’m likely to feel, about how much weight I should try to put on the ankle. His true perspective seeped through the floorboards: I did a good job with the surgery and now it’s over to you; you’ll figure it out.

I believe my doctor to be an excellent surgeon; he’s well-regarded and people come from miles around, including from Sydney, to have their ankles, feet and knees restored by him. But those of you who have had complex surgery may be familiar with this phenomenon: a surgeon has finished his job when he washes up after the operation.

The only thing I was dead sure of as I stood up to leave his office was that he was headed to Europe for two months. I left the office tightly gripping the handlebars of my knee scooter, my life a muddled vista in front of me.

Over the next few weeks, I managed the uncertainty vacuum by filling it with a couple of very accessible specialists. There’s Doug, the orthotist, who’s set me up with a nice secure moonboot and an orthotic that will help keep the fusion in alignment. And there’s Gavin, the physiotherapist, who knows about ankle-fusion surgery, about pain and about weight-bearing. He takes a nice, clear approach. First, don’t push through pain, which equals not-yet-healed bones. Second, measure. Gavin explained how to use the scales and an old telephone book to check how much weight I’m actually bearing on the operated ankle. Measure time and measure pain, he said, and explained how. Keep the swelling down, he said, and explained how. Third, be realistic. It’ll take a long time, he said. There’ll be pain. But walking will happen.

Thanks to Gavin, I can tell you I’m now able to put over 60% of my weight on the wayward ankle. I have minimal pain and I can smell the day I toss away the crutches.

Pema ChodronThat’s all well and good, but none of it provides absolute certainty. So every now and then I take a nip from a book of tiny essays called, Comfortable with Uncertainty, by philosopher Pema Chödrön. Pema says: “…Whatever we’re doing should be done with one intention. That intention is that we want to wake up. We want to ripen our compassion, and we want to ripen our ability to let go, we want to realise our connection with all beings. Everything in our lives has the potential to wake us up or put us to sleep. Allowing it to awaken us is up to us.”

It’s a reminder that uncertainty is the vehicle of life, and our job is to climb on board and ride.


In the end, the resolutions exercise went well. There’s lots of travel, singing, new gardens, and much time in community predicted. I’ll be cycling and doing long walks by December, I said. And there’s writing in my future. Muse or no muse, I’ll be exploring the world and developing connections through this blog.

Next week we’ll be doing our annual pilgrimage to Camp Creative, and after that this blog will resume its weekly pilgrimage to you.

Get past mistakes and press on to greater mistakes


4 thoughts on “In search of certainty

  1. Dear, dear Heather… I, too, will promise to forget past mistakes and press on to greater mistakes….. so sorry your ankle isn’t responding faster. Hang in there… Love you … Hi Rick

    Sent from Windows Mail

  2. Happy New Year, Shedders!
    Timely as always–your muse seems to read my life so well. The Pema Chodron quote is spot on as Jean, Karen and I make the bittersweet transition to selling our house and moving on to next chapters. We are acutely aware of the uncertainty factor as we sadly wrestle with letting go of “stuff,” but more importantly of 10+ wonderful years at Shadowlawn cooperative household. It would take a whole page (and I must write one for our blog) to explain–but the brief version is that in the next few months Karen and I will be in the cooperative-aging-in-place condo in Sarasota, with Jean coming down as often as she can, and Jean setting up a new cooperative household in Pittsburgh. This is an incredibly difficult and heart-rending time for us; excitement for new things waits in abeyance. Our New Year plans include Japan in the fall; hmm…that’s “close” to Australia….May our paths cross in 2015, and may you be skipping happily along that path, crutches long abandoned.
    For JKL

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