Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"To Rest" is a Verb, or Confessions of a List Maker

I'm a list maker. Not just a grocery list maker--a To-Do List maker. On Sunday evening I make a To Do list for the week ahead. It's stream-of-consciousness with tasks going on paper as they pop into my head. Once they're all on paper I prioritize the tasks and assign each one a day. Each I morning, O look at my tasks for the day, and jot down a.m. or p.m. At the end of the day, I cross off what got done. Anything I didn't accomplish is assigned a new day. But here's the kicker--if I accomplished something that wasn't on the list, I write it down so I can cross it off. I look at all the tasks crossed off and declare it a productive day. Crazy or just silly? I suppose it depends on your perspective.

I grew up in a family that valued productivity. I don't remember the incident because I was two when it happened, but I remember the story--and the laughter it got every time my father told it. "Your mother and I were in the living room," he would say. "We couldn't see or hear you, and we got a little worried about what you were up to. Mother called out, 'Suzanne, what are you doing?' You answered, 'Breathing.'" Breathing--that was the punchline. Gales of laughter always followed. Get it? If not, here's the moral to the story: Breathing is not doing something. A person should always do more than just breathe.

I don't know when I started making to-do lists and evaluating my days by them, But it was a process that worked for years--until Multiple Sclerosis caught up with me. If you know someone with MS, you know MS fatigue is unlike any other fatigue. It comes on without warning, and when it hits, negotiation is impossible. I can't push through the fatigue or keep going "just a little longer." When it hits, I feel like I've walked into a glass wall. One minute I'm functioning, and the next minute all systems shut down. I can't think, much less continue working. You can imagine the impact of MS fatigue on a to-do list.

I'll give you an example. Yesterday one of the tasks on my list was "Get groceries." It was right after "Pick up prescriptions." My grocery list only had four items on it, and the store was less than two miles from the pharmacy. But as I was coming out of the pharmacy, I walked into that glass wall. It was all I could do to drive fifteen minutes to get home. I considered pulling off and having a nap in the car, but finding a safe place to pull off was too difficult.

Over the last few years MS fatigue turned my list making from a celebration of work accomplished into a frustrating exercise of pushing task after task onto a later day and recopying one week's list onto the next week. I tried giving up my to-do lists, but I drifted through the days like a ship without a rudder. Then I remembered that "to rest" is a verb.

In case you've forgotten your high school grammar lessons, a verb is an action word. My lists have always consisted of words like shop, write, call, vacuum: action words. But there's another kind of verb, a word that represents a "state of being." Be in all its forms (am, was, will be) is the most common state of being verb: I am busy; I am content; I am exhausted, even I am resting. To rest, it turns out, is an honorable activity. Remember the seventh day? God rested. These days rest goes on my to-do list--right after breathe.

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