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Kick the bucket list

By Larry Krotz

Have you ever sat down and really thought about what you believe? You’ll have a chance to do so next month when we publish the 2010 Observer Survey. It’s all about faith, and it invites you to contemplate the most basic to the most challenging questions. We know you’ll find it stimulating.

All kinds of people are making bucket lists. The idea, as you probably know, started with the 2007 movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as a couple of geezers confronted with terminal medical prognoses. They make a list of all the things they never had time for earlier but now feel an urgency to do before they kick the bucket.

So off they go to visit the pyramids, skydive, drive a hugely expensive fast car and track lions on a safari.

The notion didn’t end with the movie but caught on like wildfire. Folks I know are enthusiastically putting on their thinking caps and writing down all the things they feel are left in their lives to achieve or experience. Some have acquired special notebooks for their lists; others have formed clubs so they can meet and discuss their projects with others.

Websites abound to assist you in making your bucket list, offering 101 — or even 10,000 — “things to do before you die.” One site catalogues an arbitrary “525 Ideas for Your Bucket List,” including running a marathon, swimming the English Channel, building a jazz library and meeting Donald Trump.

Travel is big in most people’s rosters, hence Patricia Schultz’s book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. I found that one on a desk in my niece’s apartment. My niece is only 30, so maybe she’ll get them all in.

What I find creepy, though, is how much this list-making looks like a countdown to death. Bucket lists seem to be as obsessed with death as they are with activity or achievement. Tick off the items until they are all gone — and then what?

Two worst-case scenarios come to mind: What if you get through everything and find yourself still alive and healthy? What kind of crisis would that cause? Or by contrast, how would you feel if you wake up on your deathbed with a number of items on the list still unsatisfied?

The other thing about most bucket lists is the preponderance of dramatic, expensive one-offs. Okay, you want to bungee jump off Vancouver’s Lions Gate Bridge. Exclusive of set-up time, that act will take about six seconds. What do you do next? The standard bucket-list assumption is that we need to do something or be taken somewhere that has nothing to do with our real life, as if we need a holiday.

I’d rather see our real lives enhanced. I wish we were encouraged to create lists of less consumer-oriented, more sustainable things, and through those maintain better lives. An alternative bucket list could remind us of the things we, being busy or preoccupied, might otherwise forget. Simple things, such as never passing up a chance to say good morning to our neighbours; making sure we take time to listen carefully to whatever a child wants to tell us; not missing any opportunity to go for a walk in nature with our partner (or our dog or friend, or simply our thoughts). An alternative list could challenge us to learn something new: how to cook, play piano or dance the tango.

That kind of list I could respect. We would never run out of opportunities to practise it, and when the bucket finally arrives to be kicked, we could look back on lives that had been made quietly richer.

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