When I was a junior in college almost forty years ago, I spent the year studying abroad in England. Going overseas for college at that time wasn’t like it is now. No organized programs with groups; just go on your own, and find your way. And that’s just what I did. I had no cell phone, no computer, no email. No way except good ol’ fashioned snail mail to communicate with my friends and family back home. If urgent, my parents could contact someone at the university I was attending, but it would be an ordeal to track me down, and clearly would only be done in a bona fide emergency.
Over the years, as our own children have traveled the world, my friends and I have often wondered how our parents survived the uncertainty that surely came with this lack of communication. At least we have cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, email, texting, Skype, and more to keep us in contact with our children, to make sure they’re where they should be, and that they’re okay. How much easier it is now than it was back then to be certain all is well. But is it really? Surely, all this connecting might give us some peace of mind, but as we know, certainty is an elusive thing. We don’t really know for sure that all is well, or will continue to be well. And all this communication can backfire. “She sounded sad on the phone.” “I didn’t like the way he looked on Skype.” “Why is she on Facebook now when she’s supposed to be out with her friends?” Increased communication can be fodder for our worries, perpetuating that need for certainty that we crave. It’s so easy to worry now, because we have so much to worry about; we are constantly being fed new material.
What my parents needed to do back then was accept the uncertainty of not knowing what was going on with me, and just believe that I’d be okay. They had no other way to get through that year intact. In other words, they needed to learn to trust the universe. As author Jeff Bell says in When in Doubt, Make Belief, “Choose to see the universe as friendly.” This is a conscious choice, and something that is not always easy to do; but it’s necessary, I believe, for good mental health.
Maybe with this surge in our capacity to connect with one another and have access to all kinds of information, we have somehow lost the ability, or need, to believe in the universe. We allow ourselves to get caught up in worry over little things (such as our child’s facial expression on Skype). Of course this issue is a major one for those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, but also something almost everyone can relate to on some level. We need to do what my parents, and certainly those who came before them, were forced to do: focus on the big picture and have faith that everything will be okay.