Me and My To-Do List, a Relationship

Like a compass needle drawn unwaveringly to north, my gaze turns to my to do list. Sweeping past the round flat drops of rain that decorate the skylight, never noticing the new blossoms that are threatening to emerge on the lilac tree, swaying outside the window, or the limb that can be seen from the kitchen sink, heavy and drooping with white balls of bloom- what is that plant called? – no time to wonder or even notice, the day’s chores are calling. The list is a structure that props up and gives form to the emptiness of a life focused on activity. It is a hollow tube through which things flow. It is always filling up- some great spring at its source, bubbling up constantly with more to do. It only gradually empties, a squeezing out of small drips, each completed task pulled from nothingness into accomplishment by a great force of will. That same will that insists that the music of life outside the door should be turned down low.

It is my great organizing principle, this list, the thing that states my priorities and outlines my enoughness. I remember the old days, when I would take a nap and then write it on my list and cross it off, as it was what I accomplished with those golden blissful hours. I have grown too serious, taken too many webinars about productivity, taken on too many projects that require follow up. I would like to write “spontaneous activity” or “unknown adventure” on my list. I wonder if that would change anything. I wonder if I could get away with it.

Saturday it was raining, but I still pulled my head up away from my work and went for a walk. It wasn’t exactly on the list, but it being the weekend, my will was distracted and I could talk it into thinking that there were endless hours left to keep squeezing out the small accomplishments that seem to define my day. I found myself near tears as I drove to meet my friend. Why is my life so filled with tasks that I have no time to live?

The rain paused. The sky lightened and blue sucker holes showed through the leaden clouds. We were by the shore and the water shimmered in the light wind, the waves dancing, the sea lions bellow echoing across the channel. New leaves decorated the woods with colors and textures that blended together into a sea of life. Steph pointed out the plants she loved: the watercress in the ditch, the ferns, the wild cherry tree blossoms. In her presence I came back into the moment and could take in what was before me and it was a sweet relief to see where I was, in my body, on the ground, in this place. I started to pay attention to the world, felt its call. The scent of lilacs wafted through the spring air and almost pierced me with memories and sweetness. The scent was like a song- alive, alive, alive- it spoke to me. Now I could hear the birds and enjoy the unfurling newness of spring growth in its untamable abundance and magnificent diversity. And I see how the garden needs no list to bloom, it has a deep knowing of when and what comes next and how to do it. The season doesn’t consult its priorities, just rolls and grows, and stays open to the next moment.

When I got home I noticed that the lilies in the back yard had grown a foot in the last week. The dishes were still on the counter and the laundry hadn’t moved from its retreat in the basket. I saw the letter was still unedited on the desktop and there were now more emails in the inbox. But the list looked different, it had a different meaning, as if it was written with Chinese characters, and was full of innuendo and suggestion. It beckoned me to look for what was there that I could not see, the very sweet thing that would ease life toward me, the thing that was the real priority and organizing principle- the being present to the moment, the surrender to the gentle flow of the bubbling up and the emptying out, casting my lot with the current, not the effort, and letting my gaze wonder from what I have to do to who I want to be, alive, with the cherry blossoms and lilacs, the sea lions and the wind on the water, alive and enough.