Something about the new year prompts a fascination with resolutions and bucket lists. We feel compelled to list out all the things we want to get done or experience, yet we rarely check everything off those lists.
Almost every time I open my web browser, I see one: some story about a place one should go, the things one must eat, the sites one HAS to see before one dies. I can’t open Facebook without someone pointing to some amusement park ride, spa, restaurant, town, or experience that’s being added to a “bucket list.”
There’s a bucket list out there for everything — from “Your Summer Bucket List” and the “Ultimate Holiday Bucket List” to a bucket list for the next time I’m in San Francisco. And in case it’s not already hard enough to keep track of my own list of things I want to do in this lifetime, there’s actually a website called Bucketlist.org that tracks the 1,000 things we should all do before we die.
Jeez, who needs THAT pressure?
Also, can we have a conversation about the term “bucket list”? Popularized by the 2007 Jack Nicholson/Morgan Freeman film of the same name, the term refers to the list of things a person wants to accomplish before kicking the bucket, but it has become a ubiquitous way to describe any sort of wish list. And it’s increasingly become a phrase I hate. I see it as a copout, a way to put off doing something without guilt or the need to face a fear. We’ve all gotten used to the idea that adding a thing we’ve always wanted to do to some imaginary list no one is tracking will alleviate the pressure to hurry up and do it, or the guilt about not having done it already.
Let’s not treat kicking the bucket as a fun way to make a listicle.
As I write this blog, it is my 48th birthday. I am squarely in the middle of my life, and perhaps even past it. Every year, time seems to speed up a little more, and the list of things I want to do is getting longer, not shorter. We’re kidding ourselves if we think we have all this time to tackle a list, or that there will be some sort of warning bell when it’s time to start ticking off list items. If that were the case, I think mid-life is when that would happen, and I’m here to tell you, I ain’t hearin’ no bells. And I don’t want to wait until I’m dying to start living.
Something that happened this summer prompted me to write this. In August, I attended the funeral of a teenaged boy. Young Tim, the son of some old friends we haven’t spent nearly enough time with in recent years, was cruelly and suddenly taken by hanta virus. Without warning he went from completely healthy, a month before his 18th birthday and on the precipice of setting out for his freshman year of college, to, in a matter of days, hospitalized for a mysterious lung infection and dead in a matter of hours.
The funeral, which filled the large church to its brim with stunned well-wishers, was a surreal experience. But as all of us sat dumbstruck that such a horrifying thing could happen, that this wasn’t just a nightmare, something also struck me as ironic and, in a way, lovely. Tim’s older sister and brother stood before us, delivering a poignant eulogy about how Tim had lived, to the fullest.
It wasn’t what I expected to hear. I expected we’d hear about stolen time, about him being ripped away just as his life was starting. Those things are true. But it gave me great joy to hear, as his siblings insisted, that he had said important things to those he loved, seized opportunities, traveled to new places, tried new experiences, and taken risks. He experienced a loving family, amazing friends, love and heartbreak, joy and sorrow.
It made me think that perhaps, if his life had to be cut short in
this way, at least… at the very least, there was this: He had not wasted the time he had.
The pain his family endures over his loss is something I can’t imagine, but in the months since that funeral, I’ve become surer than ever that this idea of a bucket list is ridiculous. At 48, I’ve already been in love several times. I’ve started a business, seen the Grand Canyon, seen my work published in print, ridden a hot-air balloon, been to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and watched Old Faithful erupt a glorious cloud of steam.
But have I spent enough quality time with the people who mean the most to me? Have I said enough “I love yous”? Have I thanked my parents for their love and support? Have I even tried to make my grandma’s recipe for nutrolls? Have I made the most of the time I’ve had?
Few of us have. Like everyone else, I’m guilty of wasting time on trivial things — watching TV, staring at my phone. Meanwhile, there are people I still need to have important conversations with, friends to laugh with, more hand-holding to do with my husband, games still to play with my daughter, lessons to share with her, and so many of her important moments still to come. The list of things I still want to do and haven’t yet done keeps getting longer, not shorter. It outnumbers the list of things I’ve done.
As I’m constantly reminded, there will never be a time when I stop adding to the list. Because the older we get, the more we learn of things we can and must do, and the faster life seems to slip away from us — all just as we realize how precious that time really is. We throw things on a list so we can wait for that “perfect time,” but when is that? Will we even recognize it when it happens? And what if it never comes?
My daughter will only be this young once. The trip to Italy I’ve been saving over eight years for must be taken soon, while I can still see those young, innocent eyes light up with the discovery of a new language and culture, and while she still wants to see the world while holding her parents’ hands. And as I was reminded this summer, as I wept for the boy I didn’t really know and wished I had, you never know what day will be your last.
So what are you waiting for? Don’t put it on your bucket list. Just go do it.