Amy Brenneman
Amy Brenneman

November 2, 2011

Farewell to the To-Do Lists

6:20 am. I rise out of bed to write. I am an acolyte at her practice, a nun fervently trying to hold on to the holy darkness of the autumn. It will get lighter sooner soon, and with the broad light comes the broad thoughts and the checklists by which I know my life.

The lists float through my head, to some degree, all day long. Sometimes demanding attention, sometimes in the background, but ever present. They don’t even need to scream out their importance. That’s how confident they are.


Where do the lists go? When I’m a bag of bones — or almost one — and my thoughts to return to Eternal Space? The time when the lists have lost their popularity and no longer rule my life? Where do they go?


I kind of feel bad for them. These sturdy little prompts line up like so many bewildered kindergartners. The list from Charlotte’s Seventh Birthday party jostles the one from the Pack of Christmas 2006. “How many did you get checked off?” they ask the others. “Nine out of eleven items — done!” sings out Thanksgiving 2009. Spring Cleaning 2001 looks glum. “One out of four,” she sighs. “Amy just didn’t care about me.” “Aw, don’t look so down,” encourages Halloween Party 1998, “She’d just had a baby, you know how that is.”


Suddenly, a white light. All faces turn toward an open door. “I’ve heard it’s terrible in there,” mutters Bodhi’s Birth To-Do. But others are more equivocal. “Christmas 1963 says it doesn’t hurt at all. It’s lovely, she says. You just get lovely and forgetful.”


The lists start shuffling toward the open door. The chatting stops as the thoughts become milky and vague. The jacked up importance of all their demands start to slow down as they return to the source of all to-do’s.


The Grand To-Do, to stay alive, finally gets checked off.


What about you? How is your life determined by lists? Or not?