On Aug. 5, 2018, my father suffered a heart attack while visiting my brother in Pennsylvania. It was the day before his 65th birthday. It took four days for the doctors to figure out what was going on and to do the necessary tests. On the fifth day, my brother called and said “They are going to do a triple bypass and aortic valve replacement. You better get down here.”

When I arrived, the information had shifted, and the clarity around a course of treatment had vanished. The six days that followed were nothing but a string of difficult conversations filled with doubt and contradiction. Anyone who’s ever been in the hospital or had a loved one there, is familiar with the singularly frustrating world of medical advice, opinion and test result interpretation. All of this during a time when the need for certainty couldn’t be higher.

Jane Hirschfield wrote a poem titled “My Doubt” that contains a line that says, “I would like to grow content in you, doubt.” I hear in that line a willingness to honor the not knowing, to sit with the discomfort and listen. I hear in that line a yearning to make a friendship, a peaceful cohabitation with the uncertainty of our lives, with the things we can’t control or predict.

It seems one of the great tragedies of our society is this search for certainty, this need to eradicate contradiction. It means that one cannot rest, constantly on guard against information that will shake our safe knowing. Like many others, I sometimes fall into the terrible trap of overthinking and obsessive searching for more and more information to eradicate the doubt or give authority to a particular choice. It is exhausting and disconnects me from that which is holy to me.

Sometimes embracing doubt can be a great connector.

There we are, my brother and I, day seven in the hospital room, still deciding if the bypass surgery is a good idea, or if a stent for now and then surgery in Maine is better. My dad, visibly shaken at the idea of the large surgery, my brother absolutely convinced that it’s the only way to go. I am in the middle, full of doubt. I feel my dad’s fear… he doesn’t believe he’ll survive the surgery. I feel my brother’s forceful certainty… he doesn’t believe dad will survive without it.

Dad finally makes the decision to do the surgery, gets emotional and asks us to leave. My brother is so harsh in his clarity that even though we sit in the same quiet room, we are miles away from each other. I wanted some way to bridge that distance. So, I asked him, “Darren, do you have any doubt at all?” The conversation that followed was life-changing.

He was brave enough to say … I was restrained enough to listen. Because the truth was, of course there was doubt and naming it meant that we could all breathe again.

Doubt is what makes space for learning, for humility, even for hope. We can’t be so arrogant as to assume we know what life has in store for us., or for others. Most of the time we can’t be certain that what we are doing is the right thing. We can only do our best.  We can honor the doubt without being crippled by it.  We can treat the uncertainty as a gift, a doorway into deeper knowing. There is more to this world than we could ever understand. We are surrounded by mystery.

I think dangerous people lack doubt. Those who stride around pronouncing that they know what’s best. I think that allowing for uncertainty and contradiction in ourselves and others means that we can listen better, be more empathetic, learn and grow more deeply.

The Rev. Michael A. Schuler once wrote:

“Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the servant of truth.

Question your convictions, for beliefs held too tightly strangle the mind and its natural wisdom.

Suspect all certitudes, for the world whirls on — nothing abides.”

My hope for us all is that we let our doubt, our uncertainty and the constant change that is this life bring us closer together. More open, more forgiving, more flexible and kind.

The Rev. Amy Fiorilli is the called and settled minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Belfast. Born and raised in Waldo County, she previously worked as a licensed clinical social worker.

GBAM, an interfaith group, envisions a world in which faith unites, rather than divides people. It gathers monthly to support one another and our community. The group can be reached at 338-4482 or on its Facebook page, GBAM – Greater Bay Area Ministerium.