I. Don’t. Know.
“Mom, why is the sky blue?” I don’t know. “Why do dogs drink with their tongues?” I don’t know. “Why did Friends only last 10 seasons?” I don’t know. “Why are Double Stuffed Oreos so much better than the regular Oreos?” Well, that one is obvious…
I. Don’t. Know- three innocent words that, when strung together in the form of an answer, create the most unsatisfying of replies. I Don’t Know equals uncertainty and gives no clear direction and, when faced with a significant question, can leave us feeling dejected and even more vulnerable than we were before we asked the question. “Will my loved one recover from their illness?” I Don’t Know. “Will I be able to have children in the future?” I Don’t Know. “Do you still love me?” I Don’t Know. “Will my cancer come back?” I. Don’t. Know.
My own personal challenge of not knowing has come to me in the form of My Cancer and the many side effects My Cancer has created. The I Don’t Knows started the day I was diagnosed. “Will the treatment work?” I Don’t Know. “Will I get into remission?” I Don’t Know. “Will I survive?” I Don’t Know.
After I did get into remission, the doctors told me My Cancer would come back, we just didn’t know when. I lived eight months in a state of wait- waiting for My Cancer to show up while trying to live, all while waiting. At that time in my life, I was very type-A. I liked clear direction and solvable problems. I made goals and I worked to achieve them. Up until My Cancer, I gravitated towards measurable success: a better grade, a faster marathon time, a longer distance triathlon. Being unable to do any of those “measurable” things left me feeling anxious and lost, and scared. So, I did the only thing I knew to do. I rescued a dog. And that dog ended up being my answer.
Riley came to me battered, but not broken. This dog had lived every moment of every day in the not knowing- “When will the humans stop abusing me?” He didn’t know. “When will I be able to step outside of this cage I’ve lived in since birth?” He didn’t know. “Will I ever know what it feels like to be loved?” Riley didn’t know. But then, I showed up and we began our journey forward- together.
Throughout our eleven years together, Riley taught me many things but one of the main lessons that I will remember always was his ability to live in the question. Riley seemed to innately know and accept that some things, many things, we will never get our answers to, and, for him, that was okay. I watched as Riley learned to trust humans and cheered him on as his disfigured limp slowly morphed into an athletic run. I was by his side as he shook in the corner of the garage every time he heard the hairdryer blowing and tried my best to assure him that he would never be burned with anything ever again. In the beginning, Riley had no way of knowing that any of this would be true, but yet, he trusted. And, because he trusted, he was able to fully and wholly live his life, with me.
A few weeks ago, in a desperate search for help with some of my post-bone marrow transplant health complications, I went to the Mayo Clinic. I’d been told they were the best and if anyone could help, it would be them. I was excited, but I was nervous. I was so nervous. My biggest fear was going and, like so many doctors before them, having the best of the best tell me- I don’t know. But what if they could give me a reason? A reason would come with an answer and an answer would come with a plan! So, I went. And I met with the doctors. And, after hours of discussion, I was given the answer I’d been so terrified to hear- We. Don’t. Know.
And this is where, every time, I think of Riley. This dog burned a God damn “Manual to Living your Best Life” into my soul and, no matter how badly I want to sink deep into the fear and feel sorry for myself, I can’t. I just can’t. Because it wasn’t what Riley did. And it’s not what Riley would do. And now it’s up to me to honor his legacy and follow in his footsteps, one baby step at a time.
Riley Rose’s manual to a life well lived would have clear directions and offer a possible other scenario. What if we heard these three words and began to actively change our thinking towards acceptance, and trust, and hope. My old type-A self cringes at the thought as none of these words can be seen or measured or achieved. But, if we don’t have a clear destination, we may as well sit back and enjoy the ride. Because that is what Riley did. And, because Ri was able to trust life again, I was too. So even though he is now gone, I have to just keep on trusting, one-I don’t know- at a time.
So, if it really is as they say more about the journey and not as much about the destination, maybe it’s time we tightened our grip and loosened the reigns. Let’s try holding onto life with all we’ve got while, at the same time, being more open to the direction in which our lives will take us. My moment years ago of giving in led me to a dog that changed my life forever. And that dog’s moment of deciding to once again trust others led him to a life full of love and companionship. And, even though we didn’t know how long our ride together would be, we at least knew that the journey of trust and acceptance and hope we had created was well worth the risk of losing it all.
Even though I have yet to get the medical answers I’ve been so desperately seeking, I know that hearing I Don’t Know only empowers me to seek my own answers that much more. Because hearing I Don’t Know doesn’t mean no. And it doesn’t mean yes. It means- anything is possible.
Maybe the lesson Riley taught us all is that living in the uncertainty means being free to live our very best lives, exactly the way we want to live them. And maybe, just maybe, we’d then be able to navigate our ways through the murky middle into the life worth living- just like Riley did.
“Am I going to survive?”
I. Don’t. Know.
“Will I ever find the answers I’m so desperately seeking?”
I. Don’t. Know.
“Am I going to be ok?”
Actually- don’t answer that.
I think this time, I’ll create my own answer.
Love you Ri Rose.
In love and hope,