An open let­ter …

On tick­ing off life’s tasks

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - MEGAN NICOL REED - Do write. megan­ni­col­

Wedged on my kitchen bench be­tween the mor­tar and pes­tle and the So­das­tream is a pas­sel of pa­pers. An au­to­matic pay­ment form for Ox­fam. User­names and pass­words for home­work ex­ten­sion sites. Some di­a­grams of daily neck stretches. Largely un­tended to, it is an archive of my very best in­ten­tions. Among it all lays a sin­gle sheet. Tatty and tea-ringed, to no one else would its worth be ap­par­ent. And yet in a fire, I would save it over pass­ports and above jew­els. My run­ning to-do list; on it I have noted ev­ery task I must achieve, from re­pot­ting a par­lour palm to up­dat­ing our wills. Some are the def­i­ni­tion of mun­dane (re­place fly re­pel­lent), while oth­ers are less tan­gi­ble (make med­i­ta­tion part of morn­ing rou­tine). Ev­ery few months, with a short­lived ela­tion, I cross off one or two items, then add three or four more. When more items are crossed out than de­mand at­ten­tion, I be­gin another. It is the ex­is­tence of the list that mat­ters more than the piece of pa­per it­self. And with­out its or­der­ing pres­ence I fear I should be quite rud­der­less.

Friends and fam­ily have long poked gen­tle fun at my need to itemise and tab­u­late, to record and in­ven­tory. I have let them laugh be­cause I knew when some­thing re­quired or­gan­is­ing, I was their woman. I fan­cied that some­how my list-mak­ing pro­cliv­i­ties gave me above av­er­age skills at man­ag­ing life. Then a few weeks ago, count­ing down the days in my cy­cle on a cal­en­dar, I re­alised Au­gust is al­most upon us, and, with a flash of dis­qui­etude, that I had still to file our 2016 tax re­turns. Sigh­ing, I went to add it to my list, and as I skimmed past the other bul­let points (clean oven, file recipes) I saw DO TAX. This was not a new ad­di­tion, just a leftover from last year, but I felt a quite un­ex­pected wretched­ness wash over me. Not be­cause I had ne­glected to do our 2015 re­turn. I was con­fi­dent I had, in fact the re­fund was long spent. No, it was more a sense of the fu­til­ity of my to-do list in the face of life’s re­lent­less­ness that gave me pause. A sud­den aware­ness of the great para­dox, that while I prize my list, my aim is in fact to be done with it, for in my fan­tasy world theere is noth­ingh leftl f f for me to do.d

After a friend at­ten nded a fu­neral re­cently, I asked her ho ow it had gone. “Oh, I don’t know,” sh he said. “It just all seemed so boxed-u p. You live your life with its many small woes and joys and then it’s over.o If you’re lucky a few peo­ple sayy some kind words about you, havee a bit of a cry, and that’s it.” Whe en I went to a fu­neral last weeke end her words came back to me.m We were farewelling a man who’d had sev­eral wives, done time in jail and bat­tled al­co­holism. Those who spoke were breath­tak­ingly hon­est, and there was so much love and pain in that room it was al­most too much to bear. He’d lived such a messy life; I don’t imag­ine he was one for lists. And even if he was, when the end came, prob­a­bly very lit­tle was ticked off. But maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s how it’s meant to be.


Linda, 62, has just fin­ished bik­ingb from the Swiss Alps to Avi­gnon, and en­joys surp­pris­ing younger peo­ple with her ex­ploits. How­eveer, she said, she also recog­nised her­self in last week’s col­umn on old age. “When we go out to din­ner withh our very mod­ern uck­land fam­ily, I of­ten no­tice mym daugh­ter cring­ing fter seem­ingly in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­mentsc from her mother. Food is es­pe­cially con­n­fus­ing, and I re­mind my hus­band not to com­ment when the main ourse is served. ‘God, I or­deredo a meal, not flower ar­range­ment,’’ he has been known ut­ter.” Like me, Ali­son is not a fan of so­cial me­dia, pre­fer­ringp to share pho­tos and in­for­ma­tioni pri­vately with friendds and fam­ily. “No needd for the world to know, is thhere?” Given the of­ten con­fess­sional na­ture of this page thou­ugh, I won­dered if Ali­son’s emaail was more ub­tle re­buke than warm com­mend­da­tion.

It is the ex­iste ence of the list that t mat­ters more than the piece of pa aper it­self. With­out t its or­der­ing prese ence I fear I should d be quite rud­derle ess.

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