If you are anything like me, you began seething and sneering when people started talking about making bucket lists a few years back. You, having heard of the movie of the same name, and having become somewhat familiar with its overly sentimental shtick about living every moment to life’s fullest extent, were left with the feeling that it all fell somewhere between inauthentic and the latest in a long line of lies the masses occasionally sell themselves to convince themselves they are not…uh…themselves. As if somehow the reality of times passage and the ultimate morbidity of such a task as making a pre-death list could be assuaged if we all just did it together. But like the old adage says, “no matter where you go, there you are” and so thus, you know, there is no escaping yourself in the end. Or the end, in the end. I digress…
So you laughed at bucket lists, in the beginning. Mainly because it’s your duty. Because, if this isn’t the type of thing you were already doing before the movie came out, there was little chance that Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as old sacks of skin jumping out of planes were going to change your mind—yet it became a thing, before you knew it. Like the Macarena, like Living la Vida Loca, like YOLO, like WAG’s (footballer wives and girlfriends—did that ever catch on here yet?). It just suddenly became a thing we were all simultaneously aware of. Thus is the pulse of the modern world. What would a bucket list be if you didn’t post the list and every single update to it for the world to see?
Now that it’s been a few years, and the smoke has cleared—or maybe, admittedly, I’m just getting older—I have revisited the subject anew. Not because I feel any differently about following the herd as we mooooo-ve (get it? #cowjokes) from one pop psychosis to the next, but simply, the times are a changing. True, in a way laughing at bucket lists wasn’t really laughing at “a do-before-I-die list” at all, it was objecting to the idea that such a thing should be prescribed; might be mainstream, and that, to perform the act publicly and broadcasting it could only ever be painfully inauthentic. Still, somewhere, the idea started in me that a list might not have to be fake or contrived. I started to care less about the fact that a list might suck the spontaneity out of an event and more concerned with the fact that the events on the list might otherwise not happen at all if not prioritized.
But here’s the thing. I make a lot of lists, to be honest: list of things to do today; list of things to do this week; list of things to do this year. In fact, writing this article was on my list for today (check!). Call it the consequence of an increasingly busy life but it’s the only way I know how to assure myself that anything gets done these days. Otherwise it’s lost in the ether somewhere between intent and wish I had.
Recently I’ve thought a great deal about loss. About age. About time. And part of that is coming to terms with the fact that I can’t do everything that there will ever be to do. A sentiment that probably should be obvious but is actually a bit hard to swallow. That part of life—and increasingly as one gets older—is about being judicious where you spend your time. Recognizing that in actuality, all life and time is a series of trades: one thing for another. You trade the excitement of the unknown for the stability of marriage—or vice versa. You trade the hard work and pain of having children for the ability to feel a love that is truly defined outside of your own personal interest and happiness. You trade nights for mornings, time for money, friends for family, etc. etc. ad nauseum. I will not presume to tell you what your trades are—you know them.
But the intersection where finite time crosses the totality of a life’s experience leads me back inevitably to the only tool that I have ever known to help me accomplish a simple task (or at least increase the odds that I will)…the list.
So whether you call it the bucket list, the Phuket list (as in a list of places you want to travel of course!), or just call it Al, the only way to stay on track with your priorities is to set a plan. A plan which, for me anyways meant letting go of my preconceived notions that just because a thing might have started as something that may seem inauthentic, doesn’t mean that is how I have to take it on. I can, instead, find my own take away within it. Find the simple distilled truth and apply it as you see fit to your life. Part of which for me, sometimes, means laying down the snark machine, toning back the sarcasm and attempting to express the simple unvarnished full-hearted, earnest intent as it changes through time. So there you go. One more thing crossed off the list for this month.
Go ahead—live a little before you die…make a bucket list! But please do me a favor and call the list Al or something.