By Sherry Chidwick
A decade ago, I briefly considered creating a bucket list. The concept, popularized by a movie of the same name, was simple: Create a list of things to accomplish or experience before one dies, or kicks the proverbial bucket. At that time in my life, I had a lot of big hopes and dreams of what my life might someday be, so this seemed like a great idea. I quickly realized, however, the conundrum making such a list could create for me.
Which items should make the list? If I set the bar low, including only those items which I was fairly certain I could accomplish, where was the challenge, the triumph upon completion?
I knew an easily achievable list would never work for me personally. From my earliest days, I have been a competitor. When there weren’t any girls’ sports teams, I played little league baseball with the boys. When I climbed my favorite tree or rode my trusty Schwinn Slick Chick with the banana seat down the hill, I pushed myself to go a little higher, a little faster than the time before. When I was finally invited to join the older generations of women playing Scrabble at the dining room table, I dug deep for every last bit of vocabulary I had accumulated. I know myself; if I am to celebrate an accomplishment, it must be sufficiently difficult–worthy of celebration–or I will be dissatisfied.
Making an overly challenging bucket list, however, could set me up for significant disappointment. The poet Langston Hughes cautioned us to hold fast to our dreams–and warned of what might happen to a dream deferred. If the before-I-die goals proved too lofty, or if unexpected illness or disability or financial crisis threw up major roadblocks, would I then be a failure? As we all know by now, life happens. Bodies age. The best laid plans can and will go awry. This was risky. I did not want to come to the end of my days disappointed.
In addition to potential dissatisfaction and disappointment, I was concerned a bucket list could also reinforce a constant state of discontentment. Rather than enjoying the moment, I would always be looking ahead to check off the next item, never content with what has been accomplished, but continually striving for the next big thing. I already had two very busy, moody, and hungry kids at home; a husband who worked terribly long hours; ongoing financial struggles; and a house under perpetual construction. Did I really want to add even more reasons to struggle with contentment?
Finally, even if I did come up with the perfect list–challenging enough to be exciting, but not so challenging as to be impossible–and I managed to actually accomplish every item on it, what then of the end game? What would be left to life once everything on the list had been checked off?
As I considered the quandary of a bucket list, lyrics from the song “Dead” by the quirky band They Might Be Giants (Flood, 1990) ran through my head:
Now it’s over–I’m dead and I still haven’t done anything that I want, or I’m still alive and there’s nothing I want to do.
Bucket lists were so trendy, but the concept just didn’t seem to work for me. I wanted something, though, that would work. I was certainly not ready to just pack it up and call it a life. What of adventure and sucking the very marrow out of life?
Ten years ago, when I concluded a bucket list would not work for me, I began a very different sort of list. I still don’t have a catchy name for it, but this list promotes gratitude and a sense of contentment, as well as a bounty of stories to tell around dinner tables and campfires, in books and blog posts, poems and songs. It is not a list of what I hope to someday accomplish, but an inventory of all the amazing and incredible things that I have already done:
- I have picked wildflowers at 11,000 feet
- I have driven across the Mojave desert in August with no air conditioning
- I have bottle fed a baby bison
- I have ridden every roller coaster I ever met
- I have been held at knife point by a drug-crazed man
- I have slept in a fire lookout tower on a mountain peak
- I have smuggled Bibles behind the Iron Curtain
- I have floated in an innertube down the river by the light of the full moon
- I have laughed around a campfire in the middle of a frozen lake
- I have held another woman’s hand while she gave birth
This is only a sampling, of course. Even without the accompanying stories, my list is already many pages long, and the amazing experiences just keep coming, much faster than I can even write the details. When I do finally kick that bucket, perhaps my grandchildren will read my stories and say, “Wow! I never knew Gram did that!” Or perhaps they will not be overly impressed. No matter. I will have spent years of my life treasuring what I have experienced and being grateful for all the wonderful opportunities I have had, instead of always pining for something different.
Reading over my list, I am filled with wonder. What a life God has given me! When I am facing the inevitable difficult times, those less than fun moments, my list shows me where I have been and reminds me to be grateful. A bucket list would have me focus on dreams yet unfulfilled, but mylist never fails to bring a quiet smile to my face. Truly, it has been an amazing ride.
Sherry Chidwick is a seeker of beauty and truth. Beauty is not always truthful and the truth is not always a thing of beauty, but wherever the two meet, she narrows her focus. Sherry is a high school teacher, a road trip junkie, and a big fan of both mountains and museums. As novice empty nesters, she and her husband are experimenting with full-time RV life in Salem, Oregon.