This may not come as a big surprise, but I am a list maker. Given my chaotic, procrastinating, undisciplined, flippant, Jack Russell Terrier nature (look, a squirrel!), I learned early in life I must make lists if I wish to be successful. It also helps me to plan so I can plan to be spontaneous when I need to be spontaneous.
My wife laughs at me, but I type lists listing the contents of both our garage freezer and our kitchen freezer. Should I mention my list for scheduling dinner menus for a month? In addition to my three planning calendars, I keep a personal "to do" list as well as a professional "to do" list. These come in two forms: short-term goals and long-term goals. Since 1992, a synopsis of each book I’ve read is recorded by date in a logbook, noting publisher, date of publication and number of pages. I’ve compiled a list of paintings and framed photographs we put in storage in the upstairs closet. I record my first lawn mowing for the year and the last, as well as when our azaleas and daylilies bloom. I’ve documented how many bags of candy we’ve given out for the last 20 Halloweens. I’ve recorded every Christmas present we’ve given since our kids were born, from rubber duckies to airfare. The docket for a church committee I chair ordinarily runs 20 pages.
I review this now and realize I probably should phone my therapist.
Still, when I was working as a preacher, I found it expedient to plan my sermons for the year – texts, titles and hymns. I should also explain that I like to plan so I can take detours and be ready for interruptions. Any pastor worth his or her salt is going to plan their Decembers well in advance because she or he knows there’s going to be several drastic emergencies over the holidays.
Sixty-two days ago, at the beginning of this valiant sheltering in place, I particularly enjoyed making another list (those of us who make lists relish making lists about lists we need to make). I figured that if it’s selfless to stay indoors, I was going to make the most of it. Finally, here was the chance for achieving varied self-improvement goals. I would start by improving speaking and reading Spanish. Then I would enrich myself by watching all the operas I have collected over the years. I would feast on a video diet of our Shakespeare plays on CD, plus read all those fat novels I’ve wanted to read. Add to this, dance lessons every afternoon. Elaine and I are pretty cool at swing dancing, but I’d enjoy mastering the waltz. I also pledged that I would write five letters a day, with a fountain pen of course. Since we’ve been sheltering in place, I have tracked in my diary twice daily the number of those infected and killed by this virus.
So how come instead of opera I’ve been watching Grit TV and those old TV Westerns? I have a sneaking feeling that Mozart is going to yield to Gilligan.
Spanish? If I change my clothes, it’s un buen dia. It’s a good day when I rearrange again the contents of our kitchen drawers. It’s a day for popping champagne corks and congratulating myself when I connect more than six pieces of our newly bought jigsaw puzzle. Yes, friends and asylum inmates, we are at the jigsaw puzzle stage of sheltering at home.
Shakespeare? The heck with Hamlet. I stand guard at the front window watching the pandemic promenade taking place on our Maple Street, making sure no little hooligans are stepping on my lawn and dog-walkers are picking up their dog poop.
Good Lord, I consider it a successful day if I brush my teeth in the morning.
Whatever happened to my Fred Astaire ambitions to perfect the waltz? I had set up in my den my phonograph so I could spin my mother’s album of Chopin’s waltzes. Instead, for countless times (and counting) I have carted Elaine’s Philadelphia Flower Show collection of heavily potted flowers and herbs from the patio to the garage at night and back again in the morning because of this May frost. Sisyphus had it easy, he wasn’t married.
I am recalibrating how I define success. It’s enough to find comfort amidst this reality of anxiety. It’s enough to find comfort instead of letting anger take control. I must make a list of this.
The Rev. Robert Andrews is retired pastor of Grove Presbyterian Church in Danville. Read more of his work at robertjohnandrews.com.