Lists. Five things to watch to keep your car from breaking down. Eight good health habits to safeguard your body from that same fate. Ten steps to make your house safe from falls and other dire events that would hasten the above-mentioned bad end. A dozen ways to guard against horrifying threats to your privacy, identity protection, credit rating and need I say, a breakdown of your mental health.
Lists have become a popular device for communication and, as a writer, I get it. What better way to ensure that you keep your audience engaged rather than clicking off to the next subject or as we say old school, turning the page.
It seems that lately I’ve been under an avalanche of lists and unsolicited advice and too much information. You just expect it when it’s from your health care provider. Mine clearly has quite a staff of producers of lists and tips on how to thrive on your own so you can avoid bothering a medical professional. Might that workforce be better deployed to the front line of the clinic or switchboard, I wonder.
Once you give your address to AARP — that’s American Association for Retired Persons, kids — you are doomed to a relentless barrage of publications and notifications full of lists restated, recrafted and regurgitated by celebrity list-givers. The titular head of my insurance company, whom I’ve never met, has recently joined the trend. Hardly a month goes by without his list aimed to keep me edgy until I write the next insurance premium check. I find myself muttering to both those agencies when, in the middle of the night I start worrying about whether I’ve detected a faltering heartbeat in the refrigerator or the car, or something going bump in the night, or other flaws in the infrastructure of my simple life. I wonder how much more advice I’d be getting if I lived where lions and tigers and bears roam.
I don’t need a nanny
The next item on my list — hah, I gotcha — will probably lose some readers. Add to the things that make me cranky, the new world order of mandated calorie counting. On a recent stop at my Zippy’s clubhouse, someone had the gall to point out the count for my favorite maple bar, now offered in fine print thanks to a recent corporate decision. At lunch elsewhere, my companion decided against her first and second choices and went with the third because of the calorie counts listed in the menu. Neither seems amused when I pled having a hard time reading the small print.
“It’s for your own good.” “They help us make wise choices.” “It just underlines what your common sense already tells you.” “Putting it off will just make it harder to do later.” Yah, I’ve heard the chorus. I get the good intentions.
I just don’t like to be told what to do. I don’t need a nanny.
No, I’m not an anarchist donut eater. I’m grateful to live in a country, a society where there is a rule of law and I’m not rebelling. I’m glad there are reins on businesses, government agencies, individuals for my safety and security. I choose to engage as a good citizen with the city and state laws that codify moral laws, right down to traffic laws and tax structures, although sometimes I question the morality and judgement of the folks we gave power to make up those laws and rules.
I suppose I should appreciate that the nanny tone of my unofficial list makers. I guess it’s better than “achtung, you must discard throw rugs and get an oil change or else.” It amuses me that I now have so much in common with the younger generation of the family, who’ve gone from teen times of edging away from parental authority to young adulthood achieving liberation by physical distance and leaving some details untold. I’m learning from them.
I know that my antipathy toward having a nanny has to do with age, mine at the further end of the timeline of life. If you’ve gotten there, you know how it is. Sprout a few grey hairs and someone sees a signal to advise you on what you’ve known how to do for decades. Lose track of a word in mid-sentence and you are under observation. Being a carefree procrastinator for life becomes an ominous trait; someone will step in and prod you to clean out the closet, clear the brush, fix the step, change your eating habits.
My ranting makes me laugh at myself because I’ve been in a list-making mode lately, too. I agree with civil liberties advocates who believe erecting a stone monument of the 10 Commandments on a government lawn violates the First Amendment. But darned if I haven’t been fantasizing about getting a few thousand prints made of Moses’ tablets and distributing them to city, state and especially federal government leaders, not to mention some businesses and entitled rich men. With commandments seven and eight circled!
“You shall not bear false witness.” What’s so hard to understand about that? If you don’t get it, get help! Talk to an interpreter before your next public testimony or press statement or social media bleep.
“You shall not steal.” That’s as clear as it gets. I’d probably better circle its twin, Number 10 on old Moses’ list: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.”
By the way, those numbers don’t mesh with what you might see carved on one of the courthouse lawn 10 Commandment displays. The Catholic count differs from Protestant and Orthodox Jewish versions. Ours is from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.
The count varies because their interpretation from the book of Exodus breaks down the First Commandment into two, with a ban on graven images as Second Commandment. There I go, sidelined by trivia. Next time you’re cruising the Internet, look for it.
As I fantasize about sending this list to leaders, lawmakers, movers, shakers and takers, I’m reminded of catechism lessons; maybe they’d be good footnotes to my list. Being truthful is a basic measure of a human being, whether you believe in God as the author of truth or not. If you twist facts, hide or dodge them, the truth doesn’t change. The fairytale about Pinocchio whose nose grew with every lie has inspired recent political cartoons. What I see is the opposite. A liar, perjurer, exaggerating or excuse-making politician or mogul shrinks with every falsehood until there’s not much left inside their suits or aloha shirts.
As for stealing, there’s so much more than the dictionary shows. The commandment encompasses perjury, fraud, embezzlement, tax evasion, even vandalism. It covers an employer who cheats his workers of just wages or customers of promised goods, and an employee not giving a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. Wow, I’d better curtail the catechism lesson or I’ll need to get thousands more copies of that biblical list!
From Matthew’s Gospel
Another list comes to mind when I watch the news, so much about the poor and helpless, needy and suffering people filmed in the war-torn cities and refugee camps of the world and in the homeless tent cities at our midst.
This checklist comes from Matthew’s Gospel. “I was hungry and you gave me to eat; thirsty and you gave me to drink. I was a stranger and you took me in, naked and you covered me, sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me.” In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus told his followers “Whatever you did for one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it for me.”
Oh my gosh, if I’m going to share this list, that will really run up the printing bill.
Hmmm, what was the other list I was thinking of sharing? That’s become my new mid-night mental exercise. What a relief from worrying about measuring up to other people’s lists. Now I make my own. Exciting. (As our great leader would say.) Alas, unlike him, I can’t keep it within the 140-character limit for a feathery flicker of a message.
Would this list from St. Luke take up too much space to fit on the flip side of the cards I’ll send out?
“Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.
“Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.
“Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you, when people hate you, when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man. Your reward will be great in heaven.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.
“Woe to you, when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets this way.
“To you who hear, I say love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
“Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours, do not demand it back.
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Okay, I’m starting to realizing my problem is not about receiving, seeking out or creating lists. I can’t seem to just leave them alone, stack them on the desk, put a bookmark in the page. I want to expand on them, react to them. Let me explain what that means. I’m footnote prone. You’ll really want to see this one. I really should make a zillion copies.
I guess it’s time to flip the pillow, close my eyes and ponder if just that one-liner final point might be enough to share, wondering if it would sink in, as I sink into sleep.