The only thing you need to do today

Many years ago, on an afternoon when I felt overwhelmed and tired and lonely and broke, my aunt called.

We lived far from each other and hadn’t talked in months.

Without asking how I was or what news my life held, she started speaking. Her sentences described the feeling of being burdened, as if she’d been watching me slogging. And then she said the specific encouragement that my situation asked for. (She does this sometimes—says exactly the right words in a way that feels miraculous and almost eerie.)

I wish I could remember most of the specifics she said that day, but I don’t. Not because they weren’t important, but because the last thing she said caught my attention most.

That last thing has become something I carry around with me, calling on it like a little mantra if I ever start stressing that I have too much to do:

You don’t need to DO anything today. You just need to love.

I am a doer. I map out my to-do list and then I do it, either until the list is checked off or I’m exhausted. If I put too much focus on that list, I behave in ways that make me not like myself very much. But if mentally revisit that years-ago phone call when I’m swamped, my to-do’s chill out a little bit.

Sure the advice sounds cheesy (just love?), but for me that day, it also sounded true.