To-Do Lists, the Grand Canyon and Gaining Perspective

My wonderful new writing friend asked, in response to my last post, whether I might share what’s on my “fitting everything in before surgery” to-do list. Great question, as I’d love to know what’s on other people’s “fitting in” or “living life to the fullest” or “I’ll feel complete once I….” to-do lists. What do you want to accomplish before you go to sleep at night? Before you reach the end of this life?

I’m big into lists. Ask me any day of the week to see one, and I can show you a running list of varying sizes, urgencies and purposes. My pre-surgery to-do list included everything from the mundane to the social to the creative to the meditative: cleaning out my email inbox; making my way through the growing pile of papers on my clutter table; purging closets and garden sheds and basement shelves; making time to walk, eat, tea with new friends; making time to reconnect with old friends; finally finishing Sophie’s and Harrison’s stalled baby books; organizing my most recent photos; reading Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster; listening (often) to the accompanying CD; carving out time to slow down and relax.

Just writing that to-do list makes me breathless, which is how I was the last couple of weeks, until a couple of days ago when my family (Josh, Sophie and Harrison, my parents), climbed into our minivan at 6 in the morning for the first leg of our journey toward the Grand Canyon. Image 26

Not long after I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2014 and told I would need surgery, I knew I wanted to take a trip beforehand. I wasn’t sure when or with whom it would happen, but getting away felt important. And important it has been, even more so than I first imagined. Because after weeks of anxiously trying to “fit everything in before surgery,” I am relaxed. I am happy. I am having (one of the things on my to-do list) quality, focused, fun time with my children and with my myself (not to mention my husband and my parents).

And not only am I relaxed and happy and enjoying my children. Yesterday I got to see the Grand Canyon for the first time.

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Yesterday I also listened to Belleruth Naparstek’s pre-surgery, relaxation CD (thank you Linda and Elanit), and as soon as I closed my eyes, I was surrounded by millions-year-old, red rock. Surrounded by open space and long-ago history. Surrounded by—immersed in—perspective and gratitude and calm.

I am but a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck. Somehow, sinking into that fact has always calmed me. The same way that sitting on this porch and looking out over the wide-open Arizona landscape, with its wide-open sky, calms me. If my life, my breast cancer, my anxiety, my to-do list is but a tiny speck, then why get weighed down by any of it? If I am so unimportant (what a liberating thought!), then what else is there to do than feel this warm breeze on my forearms and toes? What else is there to do but soak in my son’s voice from the other end of the porch and the crow’s call from across the trees? What else is there to do than sink into this moment, fully and completely? (Amazing how as soon as I do sink in, I also hear the wind in the tree in front of me, which sounds different from the wind in the grass to my left and different still from the wind in the tree on the other side of the fence. And then there are the birds: the constant chirp, chirp, chirp interspersed with the occasional, more high-pitched call in the distance and the even more occasional cacophony of birds meeting in the same tree with the wind.)

Harrison, knowing that neither his parents nor grandparents had been to the Grand Canyon before, kept saying yesterday, “This is a once in a lifetime experience! I might never see this again!”

And so is this moment, a once in a lifetime experience.

Easier for me to say and feel from this porch than when I’m sitting at home in front of a table over-flowing with bills and unopened mail. But the more I soak up each moment, the more I will carry this feeling with me—the same way I hope to carry those millions-year-old, red rocks with me. The more I soak up each moment, the easier it will be for me to feel the vast, liberating openness, no matter my next challenge; no matter what is next on my to-do list.

13 thoughts on “To-Do Lists, the Grand Canyon and Gaining Perspective

  1. Beautiful, Jenny! The red rock (still on MY list), your family and their shining faces, your words, your courage. So happy for you. xoxoxoxoxo lj

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  2. Jenny, I love to make lists, too — long, complex lists that guide me through my life (and help manage my mother’s life). Your writing lets me feel your calm and gratitude and the vast, liberating openness. I hope that feeling stays with you.

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  3. Beautiful, exquisite writing, Jenny. I love the following story: A group of scientists had to carry out research in a faraway, almost inaccessible place. A group of Mexican carriers were transporting their equipment by hand. Along the way, all the carriers inexplicably stopped at once. The scientists were astonished, then irritated, finally furious. Why did they not go on. They were wasting time. The Mexicans seemed to be waiting. Then all at once, they started moving again.. One of them explained to the scientists what had happened; “Because we had been going so fast, we left our souls behind. We stopped to wait for our souls.” It sounds as if your soul caught up with you at the Canyon. Love, Jan

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  4. This is just beautiful…thank you, dear Jenny. Such a good reminder for me to just “sink into this moment, fully and completely”. xo

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  5. So glad you’re having your “once in a lifetime” journey. I shared your photos with the class and they were amazed. We miss Harrison and can’t wait to hear more stories when he’s back!

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    1. I love thinking of Harrison’s classmates getting a glimpse of his once in a lifetime experience! Thank you for sharing with them. Postcards are on the way for you all, too– you’ve all been on Harrison’s mind, who is also eager to share with you!

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  6. Beautiful moment:
    – I am sitting in the warm breeze at the far end of our balcony;
    – Joyful shrieks and hollers of Harrison and Sophie, frolicking in the pools below;
    – You are at the table, your silvery beauty complemented by the bright reflection of red, peach, yellow and lavender roses, fragrant in the vase beside you where you work on your children’s albums;
    – A great expanse of desert flows to distant mountains;
    – Billowing white clouds rise in an endless sky.

    A large bird traces pathways across the sky as smaller ones dart between the palms and roses.
    As they drift, clouds feather their gentle touch in shadows on the earth.
    Wind dances in the branches; birds converse across the spaces between; jet streams crisscross the heaven above.

    Everything is in love with everything else.

    My heart overflows with gratitude for the bounty we are being given, with love for us all and all that holds us.

    Thank you, beloved daughter, for writing your steps so eloquently, enriching the journey of all who follow yours.

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