I remember once upon a time when my life was going to Hell, a friend wrote me a cheer up email and ended it with a quote from Bob Dylan — “I embrace the chaos.”
I laughed. When you’re in a free fall, you’re going to go splat on the pavement whether you “embrace” it or not. Really, when life is shit, it feels more like chaos is trying to embrace YOU than the other way around. But I loved the quote. The lunacy and the hubris of it — Hey Chaos! I not only accept you — I EMBRACE you! Bring it on!
There is a real peace that comes from understanding that you can’t control everything. As we say a lot here at Chump Lady — you only get to control you. And let’s face it, most of us aren’t even very good at that.
I’m a big believer in acceptance. Manage what you can, let go of the rest, and the wisdom to know the difference. So, I get rather puzzled when people criticize this site for being “black and white” or intolerant of “uncertainty.”
Sure, I believe there are some moral absolutes, I’ll cop to that. But I’m neither tolerant or intolerant of uncertainty. You may as well say I’m intolerant of gravity. Chaos is a force of nature. To live is to be uncertain — unless you’re that Long Island psychic.
Chaos has an element of creativity as well (which is probably what Dylan meant). From the mess comes reinvention, recreation. I believe my life is a testament to that.
So to make living with “uncertainty” some sort of virtue, and to speak of it in New Age terms (to be Zenner than thou?) strikes me as weird. No, it strikes me as spackle. I think the argument goes something like this:
My spouse cheated on me. I can’t know for certain if he will ever cheat on me again. So I accept that uncertainty. You angry, bitter folks over there — you think you have this figured out. That by leaving a cheater, you’re CERTAIN it will never happen again. You’re certain it’s wrong. You’re certain you know what to do if you’re cheated on. And you’re certain you can prevent it from happening again.
(To which, I wonder — hey, if we’re so certain about everything, why are we so “angry”? I mean, we control all outcomes, what is there to be pissed about?)
It seems nutty to me — I can’t be certain if he’ll cheat on me again, so I accept all uncertainty.
I’ve discussed these mental gymnastics before — to reconcile you have to live with the knowledge that the person you’re intimate with has betrayed you. That’s the shit sandwich and there is no avoiding it. So you tell yourself, okay, well I can’t control everything. Any number of things might happen if I reconcile — life is uncertainty! Those who bail do so because they can’t master the mental Zen art of dwelling with uncertainty!
Let me tell you, Unicorns, there’s a hell of a lot of uncertainty in divorce and single parenthood. We embrace the chaos over here.
The difference is we have a choice — not to live without uncertainty — but to live without a cheater. THAT cheater. The one who cheated on us — not some abstract cheater in our futures. Fuck the Devil you know. The world isn’t all devils. Maybe there are more out there, maybe not. We don’t know. We’ll jump off that bridge when we come to it.
The point is, we have confidence in our self-knowledge — what we did that was chumpy, what was spackle, and what was bad luck. We have faith in ourselves. We know that we’ll be just fine without the cheater and the deliberate chaos they sowed in our lives. We understand chaos and we’re not looking to manufacture it or invite people into our lives who embrace the fuckupedness.
We have deal breakers. We refuse to live amorphously without them. (Maybe I have a boundary, maybe I don’t… it’s a work in progress… it’s “uncertain.”)
We understand that we don’t control everything or anyone. We only control ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to Atlantic City and putting all our money down on “Fuckwit” and spinning the wheel. Yes, life is risk, but we manage risk. We weigh our investments. It’s okay to walk away from the casino. Sure, sometimes you pull the slots and hit Unicorns. But usually the house wins.
This column ran previously. I’ll be back with new columns June 4th! Still on the road.
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