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Getting Better at Uncertainty

Welcome. It was midway through Thanksgiving dinner when my phone buzzed with The Times’s push alert about the new variant. I contemplated not sharing the news with the table — better to let them enjoy the meal in peace — but I remembered that these were the very people from whom the virus had kept me separated for two years. Here we were, vaccinated and cautiously optimistic, toasting our good fortune at getting to reunite. Here we were, forgetting for a moment that gathering for future holidays was not at all guaranteed.

I told the table about the news alert, and the response was one that many of us have grown familiar with, if not fully accustomed to, this past year and a half: Conversation stopped short and we sat for a couple of beats in silence, each trying to absorb new, confusing information, trying to process, in real time, what it would mean.

Each update about the virus — booster recommendations, travel restrictions, a new variant — seems to necessitate a mental inventory of plans: plans to go to the movies or out to dinner, to visit friends or family in another state or country, to return to working in an office. Does this mean we will continue to wear a mask in certain social settings? Does this affect my decision enroll my child in an after-school activity? Our minds are like GPS apps, constantly recalculating the route as new traffic data becomes available.

And so uncertainty is normal now. Plans get made and then easily undone. We know to expect the curveball, to beware getting attached to specific outcomes. Does that mean it’s getting easier? Familiarity isn’t mastery, but experience is a good teacher. It’s still tricky to synthesize destabilizing information on the fly, but it’s possible that, push alert by push alert, we’re getting better at it.

Keep sending us your catharsis songs and we’ll compile them into a Spotify playlist. Send them to athome@nytimes.com. Be sure to include your full name and location and we might feature your response in a future newsletter. We’re At Home and Away. We’ll read every letter sent. You’ll find more ideas for passing the time below. I’ll see you on Friday.

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