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certainty: firm conviction that something is the case

Every morning for me starts with coffee and Wordle--I don't ever skip it. Wordle, like anything, comes more easily with practice. I don't usually linger long over it, and I don't have methods or strategies or words I always start with like a lot of people do. I wing it; I play with it, and the answers usually come without a lot of effort these days. This unfettered approach to Wordle isn't really like me, and I really love it for this reason. But every once in awhile I get hung up, and the common obstacle in this case is when I am absolutely certain the word has to be this or that. And I am almost always absolutely wrong.

Here's a quick rundown for those of you who don't play Wordle: each day you get six tries to guess a five letter word. Each time you guess a word, one of the following happens:

  • if any of the letters in the word you guess are not in the word of the day, those letters show up gray
  • if any of the letters in the word you guess are in the word of the day but in the wrong place, they show up yellow
  • if any of the letters in the word you guess are in the correct spot in the word of the day, they show up green.
  • and, if a word you throw out as a guess isn't a word at all, the letters kind of "jump" and it won't count it--a saving grace, actually, so you aren't wasting turns on nonsense

So, one morning I am sipping my coffee and breezily making my guesses when my fourth guess gives me three green letters--so three letters in their correct spots: _ _ B E R. I've got it! It has to be F I B E R. Nope. That was guess number five. Without hesitating: Oh, I've got it! It has to be C Y B E R. Nope, it's not cyber. Or fiber. And I'm out of turns. The word of the day appears on the screen: E M B E R. Ember. I knew it was fiber. I knew it. I had my certainty. Then I immediately knew it was cyber. I knew it. However, had I taken a beat, taken a breath before launching, I would have seen that one of my first four guesses had contained the letter C and Wordle had kindly let me know that the word of the day today did not contain a C. But I was certain. It took me a minute, embarassingly, to let go of the fact that the word wasn't fiber or cyber. It took me a minute, astonishingly, to realize that I was wrong and the word was E M B E R because, well...just because. Because it's just a game, and because today's word was E M B E R. Despite my absolute conviction of my rightness, I was still wrong. Huh.

One recent, glorious Saturday morning I went out for my "run"-- my run/walk interval workout that is easing me back into running. It was the morning of the Olympic Marathon Trials and I had an almost pain free workout--my body seemed to know what to do and my overall pace was down by a full minute from the same workout just days before. It was such a hopeful, encouraging feeling--I've turned a corner I thought. I went home, turned on the trials, and sat under a blanket with my coffee and my breakfast. It was perfect, like Saturdays of old--before running became labored, before surgeries, before my mind went bonkers and I became a casualty of running headcase. I spent the rest of the weekend in the comfort of certainty--no, in the smugness of certainty.


  • corner turned: check
  • healing complete: check
  • mindset strong: check
  • pain gone forever: check 
  • (in for some more disappointment & learning: check)

On Monday I met with my coach and we talked about the progress I had made and what a success Saturday's workout had been. At the end of our strength workout he said he wanted to go outside and just take a look at my running. He had me jog to the end of a big parking lot and then run back to him. Great! Well, great until I started the jog to the far end of the lot. My leg throbbed with every impact. I turned around and ran back to my coach--well, "ran" back. It was exactly the experience I had weeks ago when I would attempt to run and it felt like my mind and body weren't connected. My brain was sending signals, pictures, old memories of running and my leg just didn't get it. My left leg gets it, but my right leg is out to lunch. "I don't know what's happening," I said. I could tell that it was not what he was expecting to see. It wasn't what I was expecting to see. Saturday was perfect. I turned a corner. I was certain of it. He had me walk back and run to him a few more times, each a little worse than the one before. My certainty had fallen away and was laying in broken pieces that I was stomping on with my wacky, lumbering, laboring movements back and forth in that parking lot. "I don't know what the f**k is happening" I said on my final return. "It's like I can't get my mind connected to my body." "Yeah, it looks like you're just dragging that right leg along behind you," my coach replied.

I drove home from the gym feeling pretty broken. Long periods of pain are wearing and tend to warp perspective. Instead of being just one day, just one experience, it felt like I was in a game of Chutes and Ladders and I was back at square one. I hadn't turned a corner. Maybe I'll never run again. I'll always be in pain. For that moment, I was certain of it. But luckily by the time I got home, curiosity had stepped up and the grip of certainty was loosening. I found myself thinking way more productive (and energizing!) thoughts like: I wonder what else I can do to help my mind and body strengthen the connection around running; and Why was I almost pain free Saturday and not today? What's the pain trying to tell me? And maybe the most important, unsolicited thought of all as I walked into the house: Well that happened. Weird...

The next morning I woke up and got my coffee and sat down to my Wordle game. Fourth guess: _ E V E R. I got it! L E V E R! Nope. Oh, I got it! And I launch again, final guess: F E V E R! Nope. The word is N E V E R. As in: will you never learn this lesson?

Yes, I will learn this lesson, but old ideas die hard and certainty is soothing. Looking outside the box for new paths and living in curious ambiguity about pain and running and what the future is going to look like takes practice, too. And I just have to have faith that the more I practice that the less helpful certainty will appear to be.

In the movie Doubt Meryl Streep's character delivers the line "I have my certainty" with such conviction that she brought me along with her through the entire movie--until the end of the movie when she breaks down and admits she has doubt. Certainty does have a place sometimes, and sometimes doubt is courage. But I think the place I'd like to land is curiosity. Curiosity bends, which is what I need more than ever. That, I can say, I am certain of.