Mystery and Not-Knowing

 

Recently I had pretty much put aside concerns of not-knowing the outcome of one last test regarding my breast cancer. When the surgeon called a couple of days ago, I was stunned to learn at least part of the results. As I struggled to calm myself (since I was certain the test results would set me free from the possibility of chemotherapy), I realized that I didn’t know a whole lot more than I knew before he called. The results still left me in a state of not-knowing, and I didn’t like it one single bit.

Most people go through life in a continuous state of “not knowing” and don’t even realize it. We don’t know if we will encounter heavy traffic when we go out; we don’t know if it will rain in the afternoon in spite of a sunny forecast; we don’t know if we will catch a cold or get a hangnail. But because these are minor and transient conditions, we don’t worry about them; not knowing is not something we fear because we don’t give it much thought.

But then significant situations show up in our lives, unexpectedly, and are often alarming and distressing. How could we have not known? Or better yet, how could this have happened? It’s tempting to try to figure things out, and yet the discovery of causes often eludes us. So instead of coming to terms with the situation, we might obsess not only about causes but future decisions that we will need to make. In the beginning, we might not even realize what those choices might be. Until they show up, we can often rest in a state of not-knowing because we “know that we don’t know” and we might as well wait until we have something to worry about.

And then a day like this past Tuesday arrives. The surgeon has called to tell me that I am high-risk, whatever that means. Since he knows I will be visiting the oncologist on Friday, he assures me that the doctor will explain in great detail what the situation is, and then I can decide if I want to go ahead with chemotherapy. There are at least a half-dozen other factors to consider besides the results of the test.

Great. Just the kind of decision I want to make. At least my surgeon gave me a chance to absorb the idea that I would have another decision to consider. So, I felt my anxiety growing as I tried to find a comfortable way to not-know.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, I prayed. I thought about the wonder and mystery of the Divine, and how, no matter what happens, He will comfort and guide me, if I listen carefully. And then it hit me: not-knowing is not separate from, and in fact is embraced by, the Mystery of G-d.

What does that mean?

To me, I love the sense of G-d as Mystery*. Although we know a great deal about what G-d wants and expects from us, including obeying his laws and serving Him, there is a great deal we simply do not know. Our faith tells us that we cannot pronounce his true name; that any time we try to define or limit Him, we are mistaken. He is referred to as Ein Sof, “without end.” We simply must live with—that’s right—not-knowing. I suddenly realized I am perfectly comfortable with the fact that there is so much I don’t know about G-d. I can try to learn more about Him through my study, meditation, and prayer, and every glimmer of understanding informs the strength of my belief in Him. At the same time, I am not frustrated or disappointed about what I don’t know.

* * * * *

My epiphany came from realizing that my reactions to not-knowing rested in the loving-kindness of the Mystery. Whatever happened, whatever decision I made, if I used wisdom and discretion, I would be okay. That doesn’t mean that a different, even possibly “better” decision couldn’t have been made. But the Mystery will always be with me to reassure, strengthen and comfort me. That I will be able to accept the outcomes that evolve from my decision.

Whatever I choose for further treatment may not be easy to decide. But I have a sense of well-being that somehow, someway, it will all be fine.

*This Mystery is different from the Mystery in Christianity.

Published in Religion & Philosophy
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 21 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    I am more tolerant of mystery than I used to be. The problem is, I like to plan for the future, and not knowing gets in the way.

    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    I am more tolerant of mystery than I used to be. The problem is, I like to plan for the future, and not knowing gets in the way.

    No Kidding! I guess we can still plan, but if things change or go awry, we have to be flexible about changing direction. Otherwise, we can get ourselves into trouble. Thanks, Bryan.

    • #2
  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I’m still praying, Susan.

    • #3
  4. Nohaaj Coolidge
    Nohaaj
    @Nohaaj

    My Father had a great philosophy about the unknown, and the corollary related stress and worry. He was both very analytical, and a man of great faith.  In a situation where there were mysteries or unknowns, he would calculate the possible outcomes, and his plan of action for each.  Worry was never part of his plan. He would then let G-d’ s plan unfold, comfortable that he was prepared for at least most outcomes, and would handle anything else that might arise. 

     

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Nohaaj (View Comment):

    My Father had a great philosophy about the unknown, and the corollary related stress and worry. He was both very analytical, and a man of great faith. In a situation where there were mysteries or unknowns, he would calculate the possible outcomes, and his plan of action for each. Worry was never part of his plan. He would then let G-d’ s plan unfold, comfortable that he was prepared for at least most outcomes, and would handle anything else that might arise.

     

    That is really beautiful, @nohaaj. He was obviously a very wise man. Thank you.

    • #5
  6. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    G-d wants us to keep reaching out to Him. Uncertainty makes us seek His embrace. I wish it were otherwise, but people are stubborn this way, and G-d knows it.

    Our continued prayers for your complete and speedy recovery!

    • #6
  7. Nohaaj Coolidge
    Nohaaj
    @Nohaaj

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Nohaaj (View Comment):

    My Father had a great philosophy about the unknown, and the corollary related stress and worry. He was both very analytical, and a man of great faith. In a situation where there were mysteries or unknowns, he would calculate the possible outcomes, and his plan of action for each. Worry was never part of his plan. He would then let G-d’ s plan unfold, comfortable that he was prepared for at least most outcomes, and would handle anything else that might arise.

     

    That is really beautiful, @ nohaaj. He was obviously a very wise man. Thank you.

    Thank you, he was. My wife is currently in a similar stage of uncertainty, one fraught with significant history, as well.  She is a three time cancer survivor, and was recently notified of a bunch of additional issues. One biopsy came back negative yesterday – Hooray! She has two surgeries upcoming, then more biopsies planned.  I am trying my darnedest to live up to my Dad’s philosophy and faith. 

    • #7
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Nohaaj (View Comment):
    Thank you, he was. My wife is currently in a similar stage of uncertainty, one fraught with significant history, as well. She is a three time cancer survivor, and was recently notified of a bunch of additional issues. One biopsy came back negative yesterday – Hooray! She has two surgeries upcoming, then more biopsies planned. I am trying my darnedest to live up to my Dad’s philosophy and faith. 

    Bless you both. I can’t imagine getting through this time without the support of my loving husband. He’s such a trooper! I can’t imagine going through what you both are facing, but I wish you the best and your wife good results ahead! In a sense we are all “in this life together,” right?

    • #8
  9. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    There is nothing more terrifying than losing our illusion of safety and security. All life is perilous and ends in death. The genius of our mind is that we can ignore that and pursue happiness. And, for the most part, we are right in doing so. 

    • #9
  10. Nohaaj Coolidge
    Nohaaj
    @Nohaaj

    Rodin (View Comment):
    There is nothing more terrifying than losing our illusion of safety and security. All life is perilous and ends in death. The genius of our mind is that we can ignore that and pursue happiness. And, for the most part, we are right in doing so. 

    This post meshes in some ways with @giuliettachicago post about coasting.  I have always been (at least in my mind) a quite capable achiever, who at times (more frequently recently) is willing and able to coast. I now call it nearing retirement age.  My wife, partly because she is hard wired in that way, and partly because she was told a number of times that she would never live past (30, 40, 50 or have kids –she is 51 and has two boys) has embraced a full YOLO lifestyle and is always learning, striving, accomplishing, challenging herself to greater things.  She faces the lack of that illusion and makes every moment precious and productive. Still not sure why she chose me… but I am very glad that she has. 

    • #10
  11. Giulietta Coolidge
    Giulietta
    @giuliettachicago

    My dearest friend came out of a year of breast cancer treatment in September (her immunotherapy continues) and just today had her last reconstructive surgery. Your post made me think of her ordeal and reminded me that I meant to write to her today, as I have throughout this whole process which knits people together so closely. I sent her your piece, “Not a Survivor but a Thriver” which she found extremely meaningful as she tries to understand what to make of this experience. I admire your desire in both posts to be optimistic, even in the face of such Mystery. It’s a pleasure reading you, always.

    • #11
  12. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Giulietta (View Comment):

    My dearest friend came out of a year of breast cancer treatment in September (her immunotherapy continues) and just today had her last reconstructive surgery. Your post made me think of her ordeal and reminded me that I meant to write to her today, as I have throughout this whole process which knits people together so closely. I sent her your piece, “Not a Survivor but a Thriver” which she found extremely meaningful as she tries to understand what to make of this experience. I admire your desire in both posts to be optimistic, even in the face of such Mystery. It’s a pleasure reading you, always.

    Thanks so much, @giuliettachicago. I’m so glad your dear friend found the piece helpful. And that you enjoy my writing.

    • #12
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Copied from my Caring Bridge site:

    After a lengthy and in depth discussion with the oncologist, I am going to have chemotherapy. There are many good reasons to do so and very few to not proceed. Fortunately I won’t begin until April 6 (here I come Baltimore!) The regimen is two drugs, once every three weeks, for a total of 16 to 18 weeks, depending on how I tolerate it. I’m very relieved to know how closely they monitor my reactions, so I feel as if we’re making a team effort, with Jerry right beside me.

    It’s darned inconvenient, but I’m up for the challenge.  The regimen could have been much worse, I figure, and I plan to be around a very long time!

    And the appointment got me a multi-grain pancake breakfast this morning!

    • #13
  14. oleneo65 Coolidge
    oleneo65
    @oleneo65

    Susan,

    Offering prayers for your peace and comfort.

    • #14
  15. Southern Pessimist Member
    Southern Pessimist
    @SouthernPessimist

    Even though I pretend to be a pessimist, almost daily I contemplate the essence of what I believe, which is that although I can’t perceive it fully, the universe is unfolding as it should. When I face your situation, which I am sure I will, I pray that that belief still brings me comfort.

    • #15
  16. oleneo65 Coolidge
    oleneo65
    @oleneo65

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Copied from my Caring Bridge site:

    After a lengthy and in depth discussion with the oncologist, I am going to have chemotherapy. There are many good reasons to do so and very few to not proceed. Fortunately I won’t begin until April 6 (here I come Baltimore!) The regimen is two drugs, once every three weeks, for a total of 16 to 18 weeks, depending on how I tolerate it. I’m very relieved to know how closely they monitor my reactions, so I feel as if we’re making a team effort, with Jerry right beside me.

    It’s darned inconvenient, but I’m up for the challenge. The regimen could have been much worse, I figure, and I plan to be around a very long time!

    And the appointment got me a multi-grain pancake breakfast this morning!

    You go girl! 

    • #16
  17. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    You’re so strong about this, but I cry reading it. We can all learn from you, Susan, and thanks to your writing, we do. 

    • #17
  18. navyjag Lincoln
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    Good luck Susan. Wife had the same diagnosis 11 years ago. Decided to go through the chemo with later radiation.  Lost at most 1-2 days of work a week but wanted to keep going.  Other than the hair loss and fatigue no major problems. And doing fine 10 years later. Laughs at my early stage prostate cancer since I only got 4 radiation treatments with no hair loss. Keep us posted. 

    • #18
  19. Little My Member
    Little My
    @LittleMy

    Susan, you are on my daily prayer list. I also pray that your medical professionals and helpers be truly with you, sustaining you and helping you make the right decisions and reach the very best outcome.

    Consider your namesake Ruth, who also looked into an uncertain future, yet chose to follow her mother-in-law with courage and loyalty. May all be well with you,

     

     

    • #19
  20. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    navyjag (View Comment):

    Good luck Susan. Wife had the same diagnosis 11 years ago. Decided to go through the chemo with later radiation. Lost at most 1-2 days of work a week but wanted to keep going. Other than the hair loss and fatigue no major problems. And doing fine 10 years later. Laughs at my early stage prostate cancer since I only got 4 radiation treatments with no hair loss. Keep us posted.

    Thanks for the encouragement! 

    • #20
  21. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Little My (View Comment):

    Susan, you are on my daily prayer list. I also pray that your medical professionals and helpers be truly with you, sustaining you and helping you make the right decisions and reach the very best outcome.

    Consider your namesake Ruth, who also looked into an uncertain future, yet chose to follow her mother-in-law with courage and loyalty. May all be well with you,

     

     

    Thanks so much. A sweet reminder of who I am.

    • #21