I used to believe so many things.
I believed —wholeheartedly, without reservation—in reincarnation, and karma, and that our “souls” survived the death of our bodies. I believed that we could make a plan for our lives, and with perseverance and a little luck, follow that plan to whatever end we intended. I believed that everything happens for a reason, and that things always turn out “like they’re supposed to.”
I believed all of that and more for most of my life, and lived accordingly.
I was comforted by my beliefs, and felt safer in the world because of them.
When my brother died, I felt better “knowing” he wasn’t really gone, but was just gone from his body, perhaps living another life somewhere, someplace happier than this life had been for him. When I was turned down for a job I wanted, I “knew” that something better was surely coming instead, because, after all, everything happens for a reason and things always turn out like they’re supposed to.
Then the heavy losses started rolling in, hard and fast: in a year and a half I lost the job I loved, then the woman I loved, then another job. During that time my beloved cat died suddenly, and when my ex and I split, we split up the dogs (our “children”), sold our home, and, because the breakup was so bitter, I lost my relationships with her family, too.
I lost, and lost, and lost, and after so much loss, I realized that I simply no longer believed the things I’d accepted on faith all my life.
I’m not saying those things aren’t true, I’m just saying that I don’t know any more. Maybe our souls do survive death. Maybe things do happen for a reason. Maybe things do, ultimately, turn out like they’re “supposed to.” I just don’t know. And since I don’t know, I can’t lean into it for comfort like I used to.
I do know other things now, though, and these aren’t things I “believe.” These are facts…
I now know for certain that life is short.
Even if we manage to live longer than anyone else, we’re still only here for the blink of a cosmic eye. Maybe we do get other chances in other lives, and maybe we do survive the death of our bodies, but this life, in this body, is short.
The other thing I know for certain is that anything could happen.
We can plan all we want, and enjoy the illusion that we know how our lives are going to be in a year or ten years, but the fact is that we don’t know. The future is a mystery, full of surprises, revealing itself moment by moment. We may see some things coming, and some of what we plan may actually come to pass, but in the end, anything could happen.
These two simple truths—life is short, and anything could happen—are what inform my days now. I’m still learning to just sit with the not knowing, to feel safe and at ease even though I have no idea what the future holds (and to be clear, I never really knew; now I know that I don’t know), and sometimes I’m afraid. But I’m also wide awake, and open to all the possibilities inherent in uncertainty. With the raw, sharp awareness of the sheer brevity of life, undiluted by a belief in “after,” every moment shines as the rare, fleeting gift it is.
So the time to be kind is now. The time to be brave is now. The time to be is now.
Because life is short, and anything could happen.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Assistant Editor: Guenevere Neufeld/Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Zack Mccarthy /Flickr