The One-Item To-Do List
by Marvin Payne

First, as usual, I want to thank my readers for your encouragement and support. When I recklessly bellyached last month about how hard it is for a guy like me to imagine being wealthy (I was worrying about having to play a very rich person in a film), Jim from Fort Worth immediately emailed me, asking for my address so he could send me a big check. When it arrived it was, in fact, enormous–probably measuring ten inches diagonally (which is how checks are usually measured). Now, if I can just manage to create a checklist large enough to accomodate that one bold stroke of Jim’s pen… Trouble is, in the church we never seem to create checklists with only one big item on them. I mean, one item isn’t even a list. And usually our lists contain lots and lots of little items, like my last Gospel Doctrine lesson (on the Sabbath) or my next one (on the Word of Wisdom). These can be two very listy subjects. It’s why we have chalkboards. Wait! There’s a column lurking somewhere in this notion!

From my journal:
25 March 1987
“Are there many choices in life? Or only two choices? Elder Packer tells about the man who climbed the ladder of success only to find that it was leaning against the wrong wall. There are a million wrong walls, or perhaps a million facets on one huge wrong wall, but [for sure] only one right wall. A ladder might be placed at various positions along the wall, climbed at different speeds and different styles, different things might be seen, pondered, remembered, and dreamed of on the way up, but there’s only one right wall. Of the thousands of ‘moments of choice’ in our lives, each important choice is between the same two things. Bob Dylan sang, ‘It might be the devil, and it might be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.'”

On our list of “choices to make today,” one item.

Another journal entry:
11 March 2001
(Someone had just told us that all our work in the church is voluntary.)
“We volunteer to accept the Savior, to say ‘Thy will, not mine, be done.’ After that, perhaps none of our service can be accurately considered ‘voluntary.'”

And finally, from Matthew’s journal:
1st Century A.D.
“Jesus said… [I’m reticent to interrupt the Savior, but here’s the place for me to hammer on the MAIN reason to keep a journal, which is to record what He has said to you. Amen. Moving on,] Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind… Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

And all the lists. Hanging there. Make lists, of course, but save your biggest check marks for the one item from which they hang.

So Jim, I’m saving your big check to slap on my one-item “to do” list. The one item? Accept Christ. And only a check as emphatic as yours will do.

What precedes is a couple of examples of how writing things in journals can come in handy. What follows is the obligatory “motivation to write a journal” portion of the column, otherwise known as the “guilt inducement passage.”

Phyllis wrote me a very gracious note (from another planet, I think, because the service she used was called “earthlink”) in which she admitted that she too is descended from John Brown, my pioneer journal-writing ancestor whose reflections on the Mormon Trail and frontier life (on earth) have shown up here in this column a couple of times. (Brown is her great-great-great grandfather, whereas he is my great-great grandfather. Be careful Phyllis, the last time a lady made that precise confession, I married her.)

Phyllis also wrote that she felt motivated toward journal keeping by “a memory of our [her] oldest daughter (whose graduation from college we [Phyllis and her presumably interplanetary husband] attended last weekend) who had named the corners of her blankie as a young child. We were loving the memory but could only remember the names of two of the corners (dirt and soft). I wish I had written the journal!!!!” (I think they use a lot of exclamation points on that planet.)

Suddenly I realized that I had never written in my own journal the very same story (almost) about my own daughter Eliza, who’s now knocking them dead twice nightly in the outdoor theatre at Lagoon, competing bravely (and successfully) with the adjacent roller-coaster. (We should be glad that at the Sundance Theatre, where I’m working right now, we only have to worry about being distracted from our lines by huge bucks prancing along the hill behind the audience, who might all jump to the conclusion that we’re goofing up because we’re just bad actors. That is, the audience might jump, not the bucks. Well, the bucks are jumping too, but not to conclusions. They don’t much care if we’re good actors or not.)

Grandma Smith across the street had knitted Eliza this wonderful baby blanket, which, after it had served its ordained purpose, had gotten drug around the house and yard and grocery store until all but Eliza’s favorite corner had worn to tatters, and the blankie had actually begun to diminish in size appreciably. Only the one corner that she held to her face while thumb-sucking survived intact. Realizing that this was the only portion with apparent value, Eliza’s mother snipped off the rest of the blankie, which had by now commingled kind of permanently with a complex ecosystem of unidentifiable flora and fauna and, let’s face it, some actual flotsam and jetsam (probably even some xylem and phloem), and incinerated it, leaving Eliza a piece the size of a small hankie, which pleased her just fine. We had wondered for a couple of years about the appeal of that particular corner, until one of her brothers noticed that it culminated in a little twist of yarn that all this time she had been Stuffing Up Her Nose! Oh, she did cute things too. Those I wrote down.

Anyway, thanks Jim, for the check. It’s probably just fine that it was a joke, because I no longer need to imagine being wealthy–that film job came and went, and I fooled everybody. (This is the really ironic part: The costumer had me wear all my own suits! Did I dare reveal to her that they were purchased at Savers and Deseret Industries, the most expensive of them costing forty dollars ((the scene with the Lincoln Town Car)) and the one she used most ((me walking around in the bank I own)) costing twenty-two? Now for the rest of the summer I’m playing a second-rate show business hustler who worries about nothing but ticket sales and gambles a lot. This will be a snap.


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