I am a list maker, quite devoted though not obsessive. Some list makers will begin their list with “Make a list” so that once the list is made, they have something to cross off. Other obsessive types will add and score off things that were not on the original list but that they accomplished in the time imagined.
I have not done either of these….as a general rule.
Next to my laptop, where I’m writing just now, I have a pad of lined yellow paper. And each day, usually first thing in the morning, with coffee, I will jot down what I see as my duties/obligation/requirements/opportunities for the day. Then, as the day moves along, I will draw a line through each as it gets done. Very satisfying. Suits my personality I have always thought. I am not a competitive person but I do value getting things done. Accomplishments but not competition. I’m not trying to get more done than someone else. I just intend to do what I intend to do, without particular regard for what others have on their lists.
I’ve been this way as long as I can remember. But I’ve recently awakened to an aspect of this practice that I had not properly considered. Getting my list accomplished on a given day, let’s say, has led me to think in terms of getting to the bottom of the column, the end of the list, often meaning getting to the end of the day. Not driven, especially, but certainly focused, mindful of getting further along with things.
The aspect of this practice that has come to me only recently is that this disposition tends to make each day of value in direct proportion to the extent to which my list has been satisfied. And the end of one list simply invites its replacement with another. The important thing, apparently, is turning the page, as it were. Getting this list behind me, getting it done, moving on, being finished.
I’m fearful, you see, that this notion easily translates into a view that has imperceptibly and regrettably become the view I take toward life itself.
I am 82 years old. Each day I read in the news about people my age who have died. I get the necrology from the Episcopal Church Pension Fund on a monthly basis, and each time there are some several people on that list that I know/knew. I still get information about my high school classmates, typically by way of death notices sent by one of the surviving class members. In other words, and in earthly terms, these folks have completed their lists.
So, does my list making mean, in its darker side, that I am striving to get my life accomplished in the same way that I try, each day, to vanquish my list? That question startles me! And it cautions me as well.
Instead of valuing a day because I have satisfied my list, leaving nothing undone, I might well value my days simply because I get to spend each of them with Amy Donohue; because I get to have the friends I have; because I get to serve at St. Stephen’s as I do alongside Amy; because I get to live in Langley; because get to read wonderful poetry; because I get to prepare our meals; because of the companionship of God, because, because, because.
Cherish your days, I now want to say to myself, and to you, because they are the days you have been given. Their value is in their existence, in your existence in the presence of these days. Be careful, I need to caution myself, how you undertake to turn the calendar as if the days were endless.
To my companions at St. Stephen’s, I want to ask that you help me in this adventure, cherishing the days I have. It’s a new perspective for me, freshly born and fragile, likely. I’ll much appreciate your help. Learning, even now, in the midst of my lists, to cherish the days!
For many years, Peter Rood and I have given each other books of poetry to mark our respective birthdays. This June, Peter gave me a collection of remarkable poems by David Whyte, Whidbey Island resident. The one here I have found particularly rewarding. You will understand why.
David Whyte, “Beyond Santiago” in David Whyte: Still Possible 2022
Death is so simple, one moment you are alive and then, you are not.
And that fear you carry with you might equally be simple too,
that you’ll never have the time to accomplish what you wish.
But stop a moment now, before the way beyond, and let me tell you this.
You will go out of this life however untimely, having completed every single
thing you wished.
You will arrive in that night like a newborn child welcomed by loving arms.
You will find in that long anticipated enemy, the ultimate form of forgiveness
Every fearful goodbye suddenly become, a gentle getting to know,
a getting to know of a forgiveness that was strangely always anticipated,
a welcome and a full understanding of all you ever did,
everything you gave and everything you were given, and then everything
you could never give, and above all everything you could never
bring yourself to receive,
those unattainable distances that always broke your heart and the gifted
understanding of why it was so hard for you to love,
and then and most importantly and right to the heart, everything you were,
and everything you gave, that was never, ever on your list.