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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