On Certainty

It’s been a few months now since we settled down in New Zealand, and put full time travel on hold, so naturally my mind has been trying to process our fourteen months of travel.

More specifically, now that we’re beginning to build a new life, my thoughts have turned to whether forsaking our old life and our savings was worth it, whether we’re back to square one, and what I’ve learnt from this whole experience.

This is a long complicated thought process for me, but there is one big thing that has already begun to clarify.

There is no such thing as certainty.

In giving up our old life, we were giving up what seemed like security. We had a rented flat that felt like home, I had a steady job, a pension fund, a dentist, and we had savings that would have allowed us to get a mortgage and buy a house.

Cutting loose from all of this and setting off into the unknown felt like a huge leap into uncertainty.

But the thing is, nothing is certain. There is no certainty. We can’t possibly know what tomorrow will hold, or next week, or next year. We can’t know if we’ll have a next year.

Of course I knew this intellectually, before. I knew I couldn’t know the future. It’s not a new idea. But I didn’t feel it in my bones the way I do now. I still fretted about the future, more or less constantly. As if worrying would somehow protect me. Not anymore. It’s hard to put into the words the deep, almost physical sense of relief that came from really accepting the fact that tomorrow is not within my grasp.

It’s odd that derailing my career and spending our life savings has got rid of my worries about the future. But there it is.

Our old life had begun to tick the boxes of living like grown ups. And as we worked towards a stable, settled, vaguely financially comfortable life, I expected that my existential angst would be calmed. I felt like it should have been reassuring to have our shit together. But it wasn’t. It was terrifying. Because living like grown ups — paying your pension contributions, trying to climb the ladder, buying that house with a spare bedroom, is mostly about living for the future. And that future might not come.

I’m not even talking apocalypse here, just everyday human fragility.

WHAT IS THIS EVEN FOR? My existential angst continued to shout, despite the pension contributions.

I’m not suggesting that nobody should save money, or plant trees, or make jam. Hopefully tomorrow will come, and the next day. But tomorrow is not a real thing until it’s today. And unless you’re enjoying your today, what’s the point in tomorrow?

I wasn’t enjoying today in our old life. That’s not to say nothing was good about it, many many things were. But it wasn’t right. I didn’t really believe in the life I was living. I had too many todays that were only acceptable in the pursuit of a better tomorrow. And, if I was honest with myself, that better tomorrow wasn’t unfolding in front of me. Thinking about living pretty much the same life in five or ten years time didn’t make me feel safe and content. It made me want to throw my hairbrush at the wall. Which, incidentally is why I own a travel sized hairbrush. Turns out, if you throw your hairbrush at the wall, it breaks in half.

Some days, many days, instead of feeling safe in the four walls of the life we’d built, I felt unbearably constrained by them. Squashed in a box made of decisions I hadn’t even understood that I was making.

So was ‘throwing it all away’ worth it? Even though I have less idea now of what the future holds than I ever have before? Even though we’re broke, and don’t know if we’ll ever have a home of our own? Even though our friends have careers, and we still go to the reduced section of the supermarket first?

Heck yes it was worth it. I wish we’d done it sooner.

I have had so many wonderful, terrifying, thought-provoking, soul-expanding, heartrending, ecstatic, contemplative, eye-opening todays in the last year and a half. We’ve seen so many facets of human experience, so many ways to live. More than I could have imagined.

And it’s changed everything.

Over the course of our travels I’ve come to really physically grasp the privileged place I had in the world, living in comfortable enough circumstances, in a rich country with relatively generous social provision. Not to mention an absence of war, environmental disaster, tyrannical government, widespread persecution, corruption or bone-crushing unbridled capitalism.

I knew it before, but I didn’t really know. I didn’t know what that really meant.

What it means is feeling protected from the world and its whim. Having a safety net. This, of course, is a blessing. But when you’ve grown up in that environment, you somehow see it as a necessity. The only answer to the nagging worry. The magic spell to keep the wolf permanently from the door. So you try and make everything seem secure, try to make the future certain. Because it has to be.

But it isn’t. It never will be. It can’t be. And it’s really not worth squashing yourself into the wrong box to try and make it so.

I’m not saying that there is nothing so bad about being destitute, or that safety nets are not good and useful things. There is and they are. (Disagree? Go and read A Fine Balance, you won’t regret it.)

What I am saying is that absolute security is at best a luxury, and at honest worst a pernicious illusion. One that can frighten us from taking the rocky, unclear path that we really want to follow.

So yes, right now I really don’t know what the future holds. But I’m pretty much OK with that.

Because I’ve come to accept that I never really did know anyway.

2 thoughts on “On Certainty

  1. Hi Kirstie, It is very nice to check in on you and Arthur. I really enjoy your story-telling. Like a great book, each chapter of life holds its own place in your own personal story. All the best, as you live one page at a time, Joe

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