Make a "what's real now" list


I am reading a book entitled The Lake, which was written by a friend I’ve known since the sixth grade. The central character, Zach, had become catastrophically unmoored from reality during his pursuit of a doctorate in philosophy and is under the care of a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist recommends that Zach work to ground himself, to grasp reality again and to embrace it, by making lists.

These lists are bare-bones – lists of things that Zach can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. He usually doesn’t even use verbs in his lists – just long chains of things, words and phrases, which he senses in the moment of list-making.

I have begun to see the value in these lists. Being grounded in anything is challenging when your concept of how the world works has been profoundly shaken by a loss, by a life-threatening illness, by any intense and baffling crisis. Often I struggle to identify what is tangible and reliable, given that several things I thought were so tremendously unquestionable have proven to be otherwise.

So I am making lists. I make to-do lists all the time, of course, on scraps of paper that I carry around with me all day and looking forward to throwing into the recycling (only when every last item is checked off). Sometimes I make lists of things for which I am grateful, and those lists often make a difference for me. But at the moment, the “what’s real now” list is where I need to go. It doesn’t include feelings, it doesn’t include statements about things in the world that I would only read about in the paper, it doesn’t include musings or commentary or philosophical statements. Just what I can sense and know for sure in the moment. Just what’s real now.

Here’s part of today’s list:

  • It’s cloudy outside.

  • My car is repaired and works, but there is a missing part that the body shop is still waiting to be delivered from the supplier.

  • It is my brother’s birthday today.

  • In the weeping cherry tree in my front yard, there is a nest.

  • The nest contains four blue eggs.

  • The trash was picked up this morning.

  • It’s cool on the wood floor where I’m sitting.

  • Several Cheerios are under the chair.

  • My children are feeling well today.

  • My husband is fighting off a cold.

  • A friend of mine’s sister has metastatic cancer.

  • My cousin received word that she does not need chemo.

  • Today marks four years since our friend’s son died in a car accident.

  • I sent two work e-mails with documents attached.

  • In the front hall there is a bag of hand-me-downs from our cousins.

  • The muscles in my face are tense.

  • My youngest daughter’s lunchbox came home with a container of uneaten blueberries.

  • I ate her blueberries this morning.

  • A butternut squash is on the counter.

  • The squash has been on the counter for two months.

  • I hear a bird chirping outside.

  • My purse is yellow.

  • My purse is dirty except for the part under the flap, which is bright yellow.

  • I have three children.

  • There is no railing on the steps to my house.

  • I am breathing.

  • The coffee machine has turned itself off.

  • My eyeglasses are upside down on the kitchen table.

  • The electrical power is working.

  • My office computer does not stay online consistently.

  • My office computer is on the other side of the house from the modem.

  • I am not hungry.

  • My daughter just texted me that she will get a ride home from school.

  • One of my cameras is working.

  • One of my cameras is not working.

  • There are eggs in the refrigerator.

  • Cars are driving by in both directions.

There is more, of course. I will stop typing so as not to go on, because I think you get the idea. Focusing on what's real now helps me feel a little more trusting, a little more connected. It doesn’t compel me to have opinions or to change my attitude or to move in any particular direction, although any of those things might happen. It doesn’t judge me. It just is.

What’s real now, to you? Consider making a list to see.

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