The Uncertainty Principle


We’re staying right now in an RV park that we’ve been to before. It’s on tribal property at an Indian gaming casino. It turns out that the attached RV park is one of the nicest ones we’ve been to, bar none, so we have come back several times.

When we made the reservation last week, we could only get two nights, Wednesday and Thursday. We were put on a wait-list for the weekend nights – number eighteen. That meant there were seventeen folks ahead of us.

Now they did say they tended to get through the lists fairly rapidly, but there were no guarantees.

When we checked in on Wednesday, we’d gone from number eighteen to number sixteen – up two spaces. Okay – still a couple of days to go so no biggie.

Thursday was a not great day. A bike ride that we thought we could handle turned out to be much longer and more strenuous than expected. This was partially due to being out of shape, relying on both apple and then google maps to route us back and forth, a much hillier terrain than we were used to, and just plain, it got real hot. When we finally returned to the coach, hours and hours later, I ended up having severe leg cramps and then I fainted. My poor husband thought I’d had a stroke and called the paramedics and I got to spend a chunk of my afternoon in the emergency room.

The good news is that severe dehydration has a relatively simple fix – more hydration. Two liters of IV fluids pretty much fixed me right up and I feel great today.

The bad news is that dehydration is a sneaky devil. I mean, I was trying to chug fluids throughout the ride, but the heat and lack of humidity got the better of me, and I’m no spring chicken, either.

So it felt like we just plain lost a day of our relaxing, albeit very short getaway. Yesterday, I trudged to the office to check on our position on the wait-list. Number thirteen! We’d gone up a total of five spots. Which meant – we’d have to leave the park.

Well, no guarantees.

An hour later we were ready to leave and had decided to just boondock (or camp without any hookups for electricity, city water and sewer) in a wide open lot next door to the park, but still within walking distance of the casino. We went to check out and mentioned what we were going to do and said we’d be happy to come back into the park if we managed, somehow, to get to the top of the list. Yeah, it’s a hassle, but we were willing to do this, rather than try and find another park, or just go home. I also casually mentioned that I was the lady who went to the ER on Thursday. Yeah, all that dramarama was for little old me.

In the middle of checking out, the staffer says, hey, wait a moment, checks out her book and informs us that well, there is a spot open but just for tonight (Friday night). Not the entire weekend.

Okay – we’ll take it! We were pretty elated – it’s hot and being able to run the air conditioning is nice. Plus we hadn’t had much writing time, and we really wanted to be able to get to the casino and the pool which hadn’t happened yet, either because we’d lost Thursday.

So no guarantees for the entire weekend, but hey, one night was good.

We moved the coach two spaces over, and got to writing. Then about an hour later the phone rang. Yep, it’s the office and yep, there’s another space that opened up for both Saturday and, if we want it, Sunday night, too. Oh yeah, we want it.

Again, a bit of a hassle to move the coach, but it’s a thirty minute hassle. And we don’t have to go home and it’s over the weekend at one of our favorite places.

We went from number thirteen on a wait-list Friday morning to right at the top by Friday afternoon.

Obviously it’s a small matter whether or not you get into a show, or an RV park, or a restaurant that’s popular or during a particularly busy time. The larger matter, though, is how anyone handles uncertainty.

What we had come to when we went to check out yesterday was – we were prepared to leave, although we hoped we could stay. And we told the “powers that be” (in this case, the office staff) this. We didn’t just slink away and think, well, there’s no way we’ll be able to stay. Nor did we arrogantly not have a plan B in mind in case it didn’t work out.

So three things – 1. We remained positive; 2. We had a Plan B just in case; and 3. We let the powers that be know what our intention was, without necessarily saying they had to do anything about it.

See, if you think the office girl magically found me a spot because she felt sorry for me – no, that’s not it. What happened was that she had one night open and normally most folks want both weekend nights. She hadn’t thought to offer it to us because she knew (or presumed) we only wanted both. I think she was a bit surprised when we jumped on the one night so quickly.

I think telling her we were willing to leave and come back communicated that we would probably be very happy with just the one night, too.

Yes, this was much easier for us to do because we were already here. A lot of the other folks above us in line were probably only coming for the weekend so if they were put on a wait-list, they had a bigger incentive to find an alternative place or face not getting anything for the weekend. We, of course, had an equal incentive (to play the odds or just find an alternative) as we’d come mid-week.

♠♠ ♣♣ ♥♥ ♦♦

I didn’t always have a good way to handle uncertainty. As a child, I lived with plenty of it, having been abandoned by my divorced father in favor of his new family and living with a mentally ill mother. I craved certainty and guarantees, as many as possible. I hadn’t learned that life never hands any of us those things.

My husband, on the other hand, lived with relative calm and stability in his youth and one would presume he’d be much more able, constitutionally, to handle uncertainty. In some ways this is true. But in other ways, he can get quite negative when things don’t go as he assumes they will. In this case, he went to the negative side, assuming we’d end up going home a couple of days early and kicking himself for not booking sooner.

As I’ve grown, though, I notice that I strive for equanimity in relation to ‘not knowing’ – I don’t always succeed but that is my goal. In the face of the ‘Publican’s negativity about it all, I said, well, it really could go either way (I figured there were fairly equal odds). I convinced him, I guess, that there was no downside to staying positive, as long as we came up with a Plan B, too.

♠♠ ♣♣ ♥♥ ♦♦

This theme – handling uncertainty – was explored in two TV shows I watched recently.

In the first, Mad Men (one of my favorite shows), Trudy Campbell fails to secure her daughter a coveted nursery school spot at the Greenwich Day School. Pete, of course, demands a meeting with the headmaster who basically says, well, no, your daughter isn’t getting in – (once again, no guarantees!), and the failure to have an alternative was the fault of your ex-wife (she didn’t even bother to apply to any other schools for the little darling.) And also – you’re a double dealing Campbell from hundreds of years ago in Scotland. In response, Pete sucker punches the headmaster (he being a MacDonald) and the headmaster yells, “See! Sucker punched by a Campbell!”

On a more serious note, the last few episodes of Grey’s Anatomy have poignantly highlighted the theme.  Dr. Derek Shephard (McDreamy to most of us) is just driving along, witnesses an accident and stops to help out the folks.  Unfortunately, he hasn’t moved his own car out of way and when he gets in after the accident, he’s broadsided by a semi rounding a bend.  McDreamy doesn’t die immediately but is later killed off by incompetent doctors who are not used to handling such traumas.

Meredith Grey has a husband one moment, then loses him the next. Bam! And, it turns out, she’s pregnant. Double Bam! So she’s heartbroken, her kids are confused (they’re little) and she’s giving birth to a baby sometime after the death of her husband.

Can you imagine the bittersweetness of it all? No husband, no father and now three kids to raise on your own. It’s the big casino of no guarantees in life.

Part of this character’s back story is that she’s faced a lot of the same circumstances I did earlier in life – mainly a chaotic childhood (but more severely so than mine), so she’s somebody who seeks a lot of certainty in life, from picking her career (the same as her mother’s), to even adopting a child when she and McDreamy are having trouble getting pregnant.

It was a nice touch on Thursday night’s show that they interwove Meredith’s story with that of her own mother (Dr. Ellis Grey, played by Kate Burton), who faced with somewhat similar circumstances, didn’t just run away, she tried to kill herself and thereby abandon her daughter.

Meredith also runs away, but not because she’s self destructive. Her running away turns out to be very self protective, as well as protective of her children. The pregnancy, which we learn about later in the episode, infuses her running away with positive, not negative, meaning.

She’s not like her mother – rigid and self-destructive in the face of life’s vicissitudes. No, at the end of the episode she returns to Seattle as a new mother and widow, a woman coping with her ‘new normal’. Ready to be a mother to her kids and a surgeon to her patients. Maybe ready to even smile now and again in between the grieving.

She’s learned to bend and flow with uncertainty.

♠♠ ♣♣ ♥♥ ♦♦

I would only hope to be as graceful as a fictional character if faced with similar levels of uncertainty. Of course that would mean someone else would have to be writing my lines for me.  Shonda Rhimes, where are you when I need you?

Instead I blurt them out higgledy piggledy and I’ve been known to be pretty negative when faced with the unexpected bad news (Shonda, come on!)  My challenge has always been – I have to examine my own premises and beliefs about myself and my place in the universe, and figure out if they serve ‘me’. That is, the ‘me’ I am now, not the me I was as a damaged child or teenager. Only then can those thoughts that come hurling from my brain and out of my mouth be relatively positive, tempered with a knowledge that the negative, too, can happen.

Only then can I flow and bend with life. In all of its horrible and glorious uncertainty.

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