I have been considering the idea of a bucket list.
Truthfully, I have been thinking about death a lot lately. Not in any morbidly weird way, but as a natural outcome of life. More in a “We’re all going to die, let’s get used to it” kind of way.
So I guess I’ve been thinking about the progression of life and the natural order of things. I know that there really is no natural order; we collectively accept a particular order as natural, but so often our experience of life and death is one of chaos and uncertainty. Read the news, look around you, lead a grief group. Life can be very random and senseless in terms of when we die. We don’t much like to look at that but facts are facts, whether we like them or not. I have an acquaintance who just found out she has pancreatic cancer. She’s 47. Nothing natural about that, nothing to hang your hat on and say “well she lived a good long life” like we say about 90 year olds, with some sense of the acceptance of their death. There are a lot of people upset and calling unfair about my friend’s impending doom, not the least of whom is her.
You know, I’d rather not put myself in that position, however my first instinct, if I got a diagnosis of something dire, would probably be to empty the bank account, get some fabulous pain drugs and take off. A grand tour of Europe, a quick round of sexual conquests before I start to look and feel too bad, some philanthropy, some parties, lots of people and the best times I could have with them.
I’m pretty healthy but , naturally speaking, I am entering the last part of my life. If all goes well I might have, what? 20-30 years? Frankly, that doesn’t sound good to me, because of the deterioration that will naturally happen, but it also doesn’t sound like a very long time. So let’s say I have another good 10 years, physically and mentally. I KNOW! no way to tell, but for arguments sake.
What am I going to do with those 10 years? What haven’t I done that I want to do? Shit, that list could be crazy long and easily lead me down a stretch of existential angst and regret that no one needs to feel, much less write about or read! OK….so I make a bucket list. Maybe a little trite and hackneyed, maybe a pretty bad movie, but there is merit to the idea.
But I’m not going to share that list here, mainly because it isn’t written, not even started. It seems pretty overwhelming, actually. Ten good years, a zillion things I’d like to do…how do I decide? Do I arbitrarily decide, do I decide by what I actually might be able to accomplish? do I write everything down,all the fantasies, and be grateful for whatever I am able to tick off before I keel over? I don’t have that answer to that. Do you?
Actually, I wonder, ultimately, if a bucket list is even worth anything. If you think about it, what do we all seem to really want? With all the ephemera of trips and fancy cars, the large, philanthropic donations, the experiences. What is it most of us truly want?
I think it’s love.
I can say I want a grand tour of Europe, but I certainly don’t want to go alone. Who would I ask to be my companion? Why would I donate to a certain cause, who would I be hoping to help? What experience would be satisfying if undertaken alone? Hey, I could invest in a restaurant for my son the chef! All of that is love.
Death tends to throw love into high relief. Certainly in grief, pain at the loss of those who die, but at our own death too, anticipatory or real. Death gets right in there, taking our bucket list and boiling it down to it’s essence.
“Death is our friend precisely because it brings us into absolute and passionate presence with all that is here, that is natural, that is love…” Rilke got that right. I don’t think I, or most people need a true bucket list, just a willingness to be honest about exactly what it is we want in life.
This morning I found a story about an installation that the artist Candy Chang originated several years ago. It’s a great article and actually the impetus for me hopping on this train of thought that has been meandering so weirdly through this post. It made me curious, and has given me a lot to think about today.
She posits the idea of ONE thing to do before you die. ONE. It makes sense, the one. It’s not a random idea. Mary Oliver speaks of it, albeit a little differently when she asks “Tell me,what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life”
Oliver speaks of one life while Chang speaks of one thing, but both are asking us to choose before we die. And sometimes, more often than not, the answers are very much the same.
I can say with certainty that my life boils down to my relationships, as does anything else that I might want from the rest of my life. The sweet son I adore, the friends who love me and I them, my complicated and imperfect family, my Tom…I would not have missed one of those relationships, any of those moments in the “absolute and passionate presence” of all of those loves.
If I had to choose just one thing, or even a full bucket list, I’d ask for more love, more and more and more. It’s the only thing that makes sense, it what motivates us to do good, to have adventures, to connect, to give. It’s not dependent on age or health, beauty or capabilities. Even if I lived until 90 or beyond, its the only thing that can really sustain me, any of us, the only thing that gives real meaning and purpose to our lives.
(I included a link to the Brain Pickings article about Candy Chang’s installation and how it has spread throughout the world. It fascinated me today, maybe you’ll enjoy it too)