Uncertainty crashes the summit


Once upon a time, a beautiful but downtrodden young woman named Uncertainty lived on the edge of town with her three homely and unpleasant stepsisters, Certainty, Control and Data. One day, the three stepsisters went to a fancy-dress summit on climate change. Uncertainty, as usual, was left behind to clean: breakfast dishes piled high, clothes scattered all over, and newspapers in great drifts in the living room (this was in the days before e-readers).

Uncertainty wept lonely tears as she swept out their tiny cottage. Suddenly, a kindly old man appeared at the door.

“I’ve come to take you to the summit, Uncertainty,” he said, patting her hand after leaning the broom against the wall. “But first, we must dress you up in a clever disguise.”

Before long, she was radiant in a pale yellow silk satin gown, hair piled high, dripping with jewels and beaming with great anticipation and excitement. Because she was just shy of six feet tall, the old man had given her sensible flats, rather than his usual glass slippers.

“Remember the gift I have given you,” he said as she hesitated on the doorstep.

“How will I know when to use it?”

“You’ll know,” he answered, then with a wink, disappeared.

Uncertainty blinked with astonishment and when she opened her eyes, found herself in a great hall filled with intelligent, well-dressed people. Everyone seemed to know Important Things and they were all arguing good-naturedly. On a far wall flickered huge images of charts and graphs and pictures of violent storms.

She waded through the crowd as through the tall grasses in the fields back home. People smiled vacantly and nodded; no one questioned her presence. She fiddled with the plastic card that hung on a lanyard around her neck, the badge of belonging that everyone wore.

Just then a row of impressive doors opened. The crowd moved as one, drawn by the sound of a stringed orchestra playing a waltz within.

Uncertainty gasped upon entering the hall. Red velvet covered the walls and flowed onto the seats, which were arranged in an arc facing one end. A magnificent dome, its stained glass laid in intricate patterns of plants and animals, capped the room. Six people sat at a long table on the stage, lush plants in pots filling the space between them and the edge.

Uncertainty seated herself in the front row, noticing that her stepsisters were among the six on the dais. Three men whose skin and clothes gleamed in the light sat between them. Placards in front of each of them announced their names in scrolling script: Certainty, Analysis, Control, Goals, Data and Planning. The six experts whispered among themselves as old friends.

A hush fell over the crowd as the most handsome man Uncertainty had ever seen crossed the stage and stood behind a podium. He wore flowing robes of gilt and red, and his hair was perfect. When he looked straight at her, a jolt of electricity sparked between them, leaving her breathless.

The session that followed was contentious and boring. Delegates stood one by one from the audience to ask questions of the experts. Prince Imagination, the moderator, did his best to keep order, but could not prevent the occasional shouting match. More than once, a knot of people left the hall to fight it out in the anteroom. Tempers were high. The future of humanity and the very fate of the planet trembled in the balance.

After hours of this, Uncertainty rose, mounted the steps to the podium, curtseyed to the Prince and glanced over to see shock and outrage on her stepsisters’ faces.

Her first words were: “In the beginning . . . .” and the old man’s gift poured from her heart, an impassioned story of purpose and promises, of the time when people and animals were friends, of dances and ceremonies, humility and compassion, magic and mystery.

She finished by observing that everyone there carries this same story in his or her heart and suggested that they let it guide their proceedings.

Prince Imagination commanded that a special pair of chairs – thrones, really – be brought to the stage and the podium removed. When he and Uncertainty were seated, he said, “Despite our best analysis, measurements and predictions, we can never know the outcome of our plans for certain. All we can know is whether we are being true to and acting from the love in our hearts.”

Uncertainty looked out over the crowd and saw heads nodding and moist eyes blotted with handkerchiefs. Within minutes, a far-reaching Resolution was passed, unanimous but for the six experts on stage. Everyone was buzzing with happiness and wonder at this surprise turn of events.

Uncertainty had been so caught up in the excitement, and the feel of the Prince’s hand in hers, that she lost track of the time. When the great clock at the back of the hall began to chime the hour, she saw with horror it was midnight. The old man had warned her to leave before then or be revealed.

She leapt from the chair, took the steps two at a time, and fled the hall, ignoring the cries from the crowd behind her. Reaching the curb outside, she was relieved to see her Lincoln Town Car waiting. The driver stepped on the gas and fishtailed around the corner into the night, just as the Prince emerged from the building.

Two blocks later, her ride transformed into a rusty old bicycle and her gown became her usual jeans and hoodie, but she didn’t mind. Riding alone in the moonlight, she thought it was the most fun she’d ever had.

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