I am not certain about many things anymore. I have made plans that have gone awry. I have believed in systems and institutions not because they have ever worked in practice but because the ideas were sound. Ideas. Words. Sometimes they are nothing more than that. Justice. Is nothing more than a word.
I understand why the newer generation questions the previous generation. I understand why institutions are criticized. Certain events shift things and mar our understanding and remove the veil that covers our eyes. It is certain that things are going to change because things go awry. And oddly enough, this shows us that nothing is actually certain.
I always marvel at people who say they know things for sure. There is a certainty with which they speak and I wish, I could imitate that. However, I can never do so. When I get ready to state something that I am sure is certain, something appears to call its certainty into question. The things I have thought and known for sure, sure don’t seem to be…certain. Like if you do the right thing, certainly, you will be rewarded. Like if you follow the right path, your life will turn out as planned.
This shouldn’t shock me though because many things I’ve been certain of, have not in fact, come to be true. I was certain I’d have my Ph.D. and be a published author by now. I was certain that because I went to school, followed sage advice, and did the “right” things that my I would be well on my way to the American Dream. I was certain that if I folded myself into his mold of what a woman should be that I would one be happy and two have the trappings of life I dreamed of.
Certainty. I should have known better. I certainly have not gotten my Ph.D. I am certainly not a published author. I certainly am on a path. I certainly have folded myself into a mold to be what he wanted, and I still have all the trappings of life I had prior to ever meeting him, so that certainly did not work out like I was sure it would.
Despite knowing this and understanding that the certainty I had believed in wasn’t actually certain, I was certain that when officers killed a sleeping woman in her own home without announcing themselves that there would be action taken. It seemed certain. It seemed that Breonna would get justice because this was certainly a case of wrongdoing. I was certain that this case was simple to interpret. It was simple enough that even the most doggedly by the book onlooker, would be certain that the cops were in the wrong.
Once again, I misjudged certainty. Listen, I’m not someone who believes that justice actually works for those it was never meant to serve but I do know that 1+1=2, and it certainly seemed like this was an open and shut case. Yet, it certainly did not work out that way. Wanton endangerment is sure a wordy way to say nothing. A wordy way to say reckless. A wordy way to say they certainly won’t be held accountable for murder.
I thought age was supposed to illuminate truths and make specific things, certain. It is having quite the opposite effect. As I move closer to 42, I am realizing that certainty isn’t. It is not a thing. It is difficult to be certain of anything. We are in the middle of a pandemic (whether people accept it or not), we are in a serious moment of reckoning (politically and racially), and we have the ability to do something about it. Certainly, we do. However, will we? Everyone is not certain about any of the aforementioned things. And just as I have been certain of many things in my life, it turns out that I have been wrong on many occasions. Even when the outcome was clear. Even when I understood that things were not going to go the way the certainly should. Even when there was no ambiguity to the ending. If I had been paying attention, I would have seen that while things weren’t certain, they were certainly clear. They were certainly easy to understand. It was clear that doing the “right thing” doesn’t necessarily yield you the results that you are seeking. It was transparent that I wasn’t in a partnership that would come with the ending I was certain I would have. And it was distinctly unambiguous that the delay in even bringing charges against Hankinson, Mattingly, and Cosgrove would result in a bullshit charge that is a slap in the face to Black women everywhere.
When I think about it, while I never was quite certain as to what could happen, I was certainly clear on the details. Maybe that’s it. Instead of certainty, I am going to lean into clarity. I am going to lean into lucidity. I am going to lean into the freedom from vagueness. Certainty does not take into account that there are too many variables at play; clarity does and makes the variables transparent. Certainty does not follow rhyme or reason; clarity makes plain the rhyme and reason. Certainty acquits; clarity illuminates the guilt for all to see.
Maybe we cannot be certain of anything, but we can have clarity and that may be the tradeoff we should be willing to take.