Over the last 2 years, we have all had to learn to live with uncertainty. These days it’s difficult to look ahead even a few months and have any certainty about what will happen. Many of us had to change our Christmas plans at the last minute because of Covid. Again! So how
do we deal with the anxiety of not knowing what is going to happen next?
Ruth Steinberg is a storyteller and she shares her own tale of uncertainty below.
Long ago in a village in a country far, far away, there lived a man who owned a magnificent horse. So beautiful was this horse that people came from miles around just to admire it. "Perhaps," he said. "But what seems like a blessing may be a curse."
One day, the horse ran off. It was gone. People came to say how sorry they were for his bad luck. "Perhaps," he said. "But what seems like a curse may be a blessing."
A few weeks later, the horse returned, and it was not alone. It was followed by 21 wild horses. By the law of the land, they became his property. He was rich with horses. His neighbours came to congratulate him on his good fortune. "Truly," they said, "You have been blessed."
“Perhaps. But what seems like a blessing may be a curse."
Shortly after that his son (his only son) tried to ride one of the wild horses. He was thrown from it and broke his leg. The man's neighbours came to say how sorry they were. Surely, he had been cursed. "Perhaps," he said. "But what seems like a curse may be a blessing."
What are the films,
TV programmes or books
that you go to for stories of hope?
Stories that show things
can turn out well
A week later, the king came through that village, drafting every able-bodied young man for a war against the people of the north. It was horrible war. Everyone who went from the village was killed. Only that man's
son survived, because of his broken leg. To this day, in that village, they say, "what seems like a blessing may be a curse. What seems like a curse may be a blessing."
So here I am, a storyteller, thinking about uncertainty. That’s why I started with this story. This word “uncertainty” could be the word of the moment.“Uncertainty” could be the title of a book about the last two years. It is February 2022, and as we go into the third year of this pandemic we are living with massive uncertainty.
We are living out a story, each of us in our own way, in dealing with the challenges of the pandemic. In Shine we have read stories of how many of us have met big changes, big challenges in the past. Maybe in our own lives we have had to deal with illness, bereavement, or other life-changing events. Or we have lived through wars, dealing with the world of new technology, and other ways in which the world that we grew up with has been transformed. Maybe the only thing that is constant is that things change. That’s the nature of being human.
When we are faced with too much uncertainty it can be overwhelming. Maybe you can look back over your life and notice when something seemed impossible - and you came through. Maybe something happened out of the blue that set you on a new path. We are pulled to stories that give hope or can inspire us. There have been so many during this time where people have helped their neighbours or found ways to make life a little sweeter. Stories of healthcare staff and front-line workers who worked so hard for our benefit.
So how do we make sense of our lives? Maybe it is only by looking back, only by telling the stories that we have lived that we can understand that this chance meeting, or that decision led to why you live where you do or have the friends you have. What led us to choose to follow one way rather than another? When we look back, things make sense in a way they never did when we were living our lives.
In Issue 1 of Shine, I told you of one such chance meeting. I was approaching 50 and had been single for over a decade. I was expecting that that was the way it was going to be for the rest of my life. I had a good life, good friends, I enjoyed my job
So, the question was: how to get older alone. Then one day I was asked if I could help someone: Len. His wife had died. Would I go for walks or to theatre with him? It wasn’t match-making. Len had had just one significant relationship and never wanted or expected another. He was 15 years older than me.
Another thing to tell you is that it was my mother’s dream I would marry a Jewish doctor. Of course, I went my own way - that was the last thing I wanted. Len was a very unlikely partner but something about him made me say yes. 21 years later we are together, married and sharing our lives. I never expected that.
What are the films, TV programmes or books that you go to for stories of hope? Stories that show things can
turn out well, that hard times can be overcome? I watched the film ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ yet again this
Christmas. After George Bailey (James Stewart) wishes he had never been born, an angel (Henry Travers) is
sent to earth to make George's wish come true. George starts to realize how many lives he has changed and
impacted, and how they would be different if he was never there. I’ve seen this film many times, so I know what’s going to happen, but I love to see George struggle with how he feels about himself and how despair turns to joy as he gets back all the love he has given.
Len and I made just one new year’s resolution this year. Every day we are going to notice signs of spring.
In the cold of winter, in the dark times there is a story playing out, underneath the soil, on the branches and
twigs, in the park, on the lake. We decided to notice. Perhaps, in an uncertain world, we can rely on the
changing of the seasons.
So, to finish here is another story:
Once there was village, a very long way from here. Or maybe it was near. In that village, on the top of a hill,
lived a very wise and very old woman. If anyone in the village had a problem or a question, they would go
up the hill to the wise woman and she would always answer, or something she could give to help with their difficulties. Her reputation was known far and wide. It seemed that there was no question she couldn’t answer.
Also in that village there was a young man. He was very proud of his cleverness. He had been thinking about the wise woman: could he think of a question that she wouldn’t be able to answer? He was walking round the streets of the village trying to come up with an impossible question when he saw on the ground a little fledging that had fallen from its nest. He picked it up and instantly knew what he would ask the old woman. Pleased with himself, he walked up the hill, up to the door of her cottage and knocked. Then he put his hands behind his back, holding the little bird.
The wise woman answered the door and asked the young man, “Do you have a question for me? “Yes”, he said. “My question is What do I have behind my back?” As he was talking, this little bird was wriggling and shivering in his hands and one feather got dislodged. The feather floated down to the ground. The young man didn’t notice it, but the wise woman did. She noticed everything.
“Aha,” said the wise woman, “What you have in your hands, young man, is a bird.”
Well, the young man was furious. But like lightning he thought of another question – that she definitely
wouldn’t be able to answer.
I have another question,” said the young man. “Is this bird alive or dead?” If she said “dead”, he would
bring out the bird and show that it was alive and unharmed. If she said “alive”, he could crush it in his hands, kill it and prove her wrong. The old woman looked the young man straight in the eye and said, “You ask - is this bird alive or dead?” She paused. “The answer to your question … is in your hands.”
The young man was so sure that his cleverness could triumph over the wisdom of the wise old woman. It was more important to him to be clever than wise. Issues of life and death or cruelty were of no importance to him.
Your future is in your hands.
We asked some regular contributors to tell us how they stay optimistic when facing an uncertain future.
I try to remain optimistic whatever is hurled at us. Surprisingly, I’ve remained positive throughout the lockdowns, but I still have an underlying fear of the future. The constant fear of illness and the spiralling cost of living is something I’m unable to escape from. In order to try and overcome my fears I constantly set myself goals. But, as with Leeds United, they’re not always achieved!
I yearn for spring, with its freshness and hope. After the last couple of years we cannot ignore nature. As the days grow longer, the sun being higher in the sky encourages new life from the wintry ground. Snowdrops and crocuses are chased by daffodils. The latter were once seen only in parks and gardens but now they line major roads around our city
The way I look at it, only the present moment (now) truly exists. It can never not be now, can it? It is impossible to find fulfilment in a tomorrow that never comes. One can only be happy now. There are no problems now, and nothing to fear now. Fear/ anxiety can only be based on some hypothetical future event. Linear time is an illusion, albeit a stubborn one.
New experiences and new challenges become more difficult to seek out in this our altered world. We live for now, but there has to be something in our lives that draws us onward. Yesterday is done,
gone, but how lucky are we to have today and maybe tomorrow. Make it count.
I hope that I remain well and fit enough to enjoy pleasure, challenge and stimulation from now because
this is the new normal. This virus is part of our lives. We can’t hide away; we have so little time and this is our world, our life now.
I am coming to terms with my altered, smaller world. I grew up in an era of affordable foreign travel when the world was open to us and we didn’t have to think too hard about going safely to the cinema, theatre, or a restaurant. We took that freedom as a given, a normal thing to which we had access. I can’t see a time in the near future when I will safely visit our daughters in Canada or Australia. I fear for the future and I think world economic instability will be the next issue.
My husband and I set off in March 2020 determined to fill our lockdown life with a set of jobs and objectives because we knew we had to fill this smaller life with meaningful activities. We accomplished a lot and were busy and very pleased with what we had achieved. That has become harder after 2 years of lockdowns and restrictions. We suffer, rather selfishly, from Covid fatigue. I say selfishly as we are fully vaccinated and remain fit and well with a good family and rewarding interests. We try not to look back at the freedom we had, which we took for granted, and which is now curtailed. We are more cautious in this new world of masks and limits on our pleasures.
So how do we stay resilient and optimistic? We took on a 5-year-old abused rescue dog. It’s been an uphill struggle Every day, we walk on the nearby RSPB reserve, where there is always something new to see and talk about. We Skype, Zoom and Google meet with family and friends. Reading is a great solace which it has always been. Writing for Shine and the 2 writing groups to which I belong have been wonderful challenges. I love to cook (and in particular bake), but I have to curb this pleasure as weight gain is a never ending danger for me. Perhaps remaining optimistic and resilient at this time is one of the hardest things.
It seems Covid is still with us, but we are learning to live with it. Taking the necessary precautions, we can now try to stay free from the dreaded disease. I am looking forward to having a new great grandchild, a family wedding and a birthday - amongst many other occasions in 2022. It does help looking forward to hopefully, better times. I always aim to be optimistic. It has seen me through many troublesome times in the past. Keeping busy helps, when a bad mood hits me, I spring clean the flat. It doesn't take away the bad mood, but the flat looks great.
It’s good to look to the future and think about holidays. We can now start looking at destinations - albeit
preferably in this country rather than abroad. How lucky are we to live in such a beautiful country with
endless possibilities for a fantastic holiday!
More In Focus.
We focus on the subjects and issues facing older people
The Age Proud Festival is coming to Leeds this Autumn. We thought you should get a sneak preview so we’ve spoken to a few
of the key people involved.