Section: Opinion

In life’s most uncertain moments, find comfort in the present

Albert Camus, in his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus,” writes, “What I know, what is certain, what I cannot deny, what I cannot reject — this is what counts.” In taking this further, I believe in the face of the unknown, it is necessary to root ourselves and find comfort in that which is irrefutably true: the certainty of now. This feels even more pertinent as we live through COVID-19.

I run practically every day. And, when I run, I inevitably encounter the miles and moments when I begin to question myself — when I feel too tired, when the time and distance left to go feels too long. I combat this self-doubt by finding comfort in what lies ahead: the patch of shade around the next corner, the mere two miles left to go. 

In my hometown in Connecticut, at the top of the hill on Sport Hill Road, one can either go straight or turn right. Straight goes back towards the town’s center; right goes out into the woods. I often run past this intersection, and always go straight. But, last Friday, the road on the other side of the hill was closed due to construction. I had to go right, or turn around. I was fairly confident that turning right would lead me to another route that would eventually take me home. I turned right.

After I turned down this unfamiliar road, however, self-doubt crept in. I could not comfort myself in the ways I was accustomed. There were no past experiences to refer back to, to find solace in. What resulted of my inability to self-soothe and self-motivate was both fear and anxiety. Fear came from being in a completely unrecognizable area. Anxiety came from the lack of control I had over what was to come. 

In heeding Camus’ advice, and in an effort to combat the fear and anxiety, I rooted myself in what was certain: that which was immediately in front of me — the river that flowed through the woods to my left, the white farmhouse to my right, the patches of light that fell onto the black top, the smell of honeysuckle that must’ve been planted in a garden nearby. I paid attention to all that I could see in front of me, to all that I could sense around me and to nothing else. While uncertainty lay ahead, I looked out into the beauty of the very certain present. There was profound comfort to be found in the now. 

The anxiety began to fade. I eventually found myself somewhere I could recognize, and soon I was home.

In reflecting, I have found that to run somewhere I didn’t know feels similar to what it means to live through the uncertainty of COVID-19. There is no way to fast-track to a more familiar life. There is no way to gauge what is to come. Yet to live in a perpetual state of fear and anxiety, impatiently waiting for the end, is no way to live. 

While individual experiences may vary, life before the pandemic at least felt familiar, even if it wasn’t quite as certain as continuing straight down Sport Hill Road. When self-doubt arose, as it was bound to do, we could find comfort in hope for the future. Now that hope is especially difficult to find. 

As we run down this road we do not know, we must figure out how to cope and self-motivate in entirely different ways than we have before. The alternative is to live in a perpetual state of displeasure. I have come to find, as I did on my run that day, that the best way to do this is by looking at where we are and finding meaning in what is now —  in the river that runs to our left, in the white farmhouse to our right. The best way to get through this stretch of uncertain road is to put Camus’ words into practice. We must focus on what counts, what we cannot reject, what we cannot deny.

Let go of the idea that there should be any certainty and allow the river to pass as we simultaneously enjoy the sound of its water rushing by. While we can’t choose our circumstances, we can choose how we perceive them. We can choose to look up in an effort to turn away from fear and anxiety. We can find comfort when we choose to find beauty in where we are right now, wherever that may be. We can choose to find meaning in what is now and live where we are. And eventually we will end up somewhere familiar.

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