I was searching for the source of a quote I read years ago, whose essence has stuck with me, if not it’s precise language. It was attributed to Gloria Steinem.
She said, “The great thing about not knowing what comes next…” (and I thought, Yes? Yes? What is it? Please tell me what’s great about all this not knowing business!!) “…is that it might be wonderful.”
“That’s all? It might be wonderful?” Insufficient payoff for the terrible heaviness of not knowing.
I’ve spent much of the past few years trying to live into her radically optimistic world view. For me, not knowing what came next was painful, almost unbearable. In the cosmic sense, of course, none of us knows what’s next (earthquake, or flood, or call from the Nobel committee, etc.). But much of the time we think we do. We have enough information at least to predict what next month or next year brings. For me, the decision to sell our house a few years ago launched us on a journey of major not knowing. I wanted the quote as a lead-in to the book I’m working on about that journey.
Because the journey has moved me toward understanding that quote. It has taught me that not knowing becomes easier.
Not easy, but easier. I try to live more in the second half of Gloria’s statement than in the first. It might be wonderful.
Yeah, that’s right. And it’s up to us to make it wonderful.
I didn’t find that quote today, but I did find a rich and deep interview of a curious and brilliant mind. I give you Maria Shriver interviewing Gloria Steinem, and two of my favorite passages from their conversation:
The most hopeful.
SHRIVER: Do you think that you ran a revolution? Do you think it was successful?
STEINEM: Well, first of all, I think we’ve just begun. If you think about the Suffrage Movement as a precedent, it took more than 100 years to get the vote and for that movement itself to run a certain course. We’re only about 40 years into this movement, so this particular wave of change certainly has a long way to go. It’s not in the past.
The most daunting.
SHRIVER: Is there some part of your life that you think represents a cautionary tale?
STEINEM: I think the biggest thing is probably that I wasted time.
SHRIVER: You feel like you wasted time? In what way?
STEINEM: I continued for too long to do things that I already knew how to do, or to write stories that I was assigned instead of fighting for stories that I couldn’t get, or doing ones that I thought were important on my own. The wasting of time is the thing I worry about the most. Because time is all there is.
You heard her. Back to work.