The List That Changed My Life

Jennifer Cramer-Miller
3 min readApr 22, 2020


Photo by Michael Fenton on Unsplash

Crashing into Clarity

I recently heard Cheryl Strayed, an author I admire (best known for her memoir Wild) tell this story, and it stuck with me. She was riding in the car with her ex-husband years ago. On an icy patch of a Wisconsin highway, the car started to slip and slide. As he tightly gripped the wheel, Ms. Strayed screamed, “Get control of the car!”

She shouted it again. Then the car careened airborne off the side of the road, flying above a sunken ditch. Right then, the idea of control evaporated, and instantly, she and her then husband reached out to each other and simultaneously said, “I love you.”

She explains on her podcast, Sugar Calling, (they both survived the crash) that in that defining moment, her panic fell, and clarity rose. The most important thing, love, revealed itself.

For me, her story crystalizes what I’ve learned after four kidney transplants — the unexpected gifts of crisis. Just like when serious illness or hardship sends us flying (everyone encounters some slippery roads in life), crisis is a sift and the most important stuff remains.

We are all riding in that car right now, skidding on the coronavirus highway with fear and panic.

And collectively, we’re bracing for loss. Not just hugs and gatherings, but lives, jobs, incomes, businesses, food and financial security. The stakes are high. And it’s hard. Panic worthy. Yet living in a constant state of panic makes what’s hard, harder.

Generate a List to Mitigate and Manage Fear

So when fear overwhelms me, I use this super simple process to steady my slip sliding thoughts.

I generate a lucky list with this prompt:

I’m lucky to have______(fill in the blank).

Here’s a straightforward example. Even though my dad lives only five miles away, I couldn’t join him face to face for his 85th birthday because we are both at high risk for coronavirus complications. And this broke my heart. To counter my defeated thoughts, I filled in the blanks. I’m lucky to have a dad I adore, who’s able to blow out a crowd of candles on a cake. I’m lucky to have his unparalleled wit and wisdom still shining in my life.

I know this thought process may sound trite in the face of so much misery. And I never aim to oversimplify the crushing weight of anguish and anxiety. We can’t erase loss with a lucky thought. But we can redirect our focus, if only for a brief respite.

If you feel helpless and paralyzed for others in pain, especially then, I’m lucky to have is a powerful way to fuel kindness as love in action. I’m lucky to have: the wherewithal to help provide shelter, food, diapers, prescription pickups, donations, masks and love. And for our own pain? Bottom line: If we’re alive, we have something to appreciate.

We’re together in that car and crashing into a new clarity of survival. And what we miss the most pinpoints what we keenly appreciate. We value and miss our people. Right? So we schedule Zoom meetings and cocktail parties and holidays because sharing ideas and friendship and traditions matter. The people we love matter. Even if through a computer screen — seeing generous smiles, furrowed brows, tears, feasts we won’t share, candles on a cake, (and occasional eye rolls), we find connection. People are lucky to have people.

Isn’t this coronavirus pandemic an opportune time to sift through our lives and reveal what’s important? If it helps to reduce your panic and increase clarity, ponder your I’m lucky to haves and generate a lucky list. I’ve been using this redirection of thoughts for years. And over time, I’ve found that I’m lucky to have morphs beyond a crisis method to endure loss — into a hopeful way of navigating a difficult world every day. Amidst this coronavirus upheaval, clarity presents a gift — unwrap it to reveal gratitude for the people you love.



Jennifer Cramer-Miller

Writer. Speaker. Gratitude advocate. Find me at: Brevity, Sunlight Press, Erma Bombeck Blog, Medium, and more!