Bucket List

Bucket lists. Everyone’s got one, it seems, and it’s got nothing to do with useful household items. It’s a list of things you want to do before you die, and it originated with the film ‘The Bucket List‘, about two cancer patients who go on a world tour of doing all the things they really want to do before they die.

Now, there’s even a website where you can post your Bucket List and compare it to other people’s, and judging by what’s available on the internet, everybody and his brother wants to swim with dolphins (but do they want to swim with us?). Or take a balloon ride over the pyramids (personally, I don’t think I’d want to be in a hot-air balloon basket flying over anything pointy).

There’s discussion about whether bucket lists are a good thing or a bad thing. Do they give us goals in life, or do they fill life up with stuff that just turns into more and more things to rush through, ticking them off a list in a mad hurry to get to the end? Do you end up so focused on ticking things off your list that you forget to enjoy them? Or forget to pay attention to the people around you?

One thing about bucket lists, though, is that they seem to change – not just as you get older (and suddenly bungee jumping seems less attractive) but as death changes from an abstract concept – or something that only happens to other people (unless the elastic snaps) – to something that is real, imminent, and personal. Simon Mitchell, diagnosed with lymphoma, has a bucket list that is mostly about helping others. Stephen Sutton, who recently died of cancer at the age of 19, found his bucket list changing from things that he wanted to experience, to things that would help others.

I wonder, as we come to terms with our own mortality, do we realise that packing in more and more ‘experiences’ is ultimately pointless? If we wish to leave a lasting legacy, to leave our mark on the world in a good way, we should instead help others. Or is it not so much leaving a legacy, but that spending time rushing from dolphin-pool to pyramids is ultimately less satisfying than doing something useful to help others? Or that the whole point of a bucket list is to create memories – and if all you’re doing is going bungee jumping, the only memories are yours, which will shortly be extinguished when you die. But if you do something for someone else, their memory will carry on for years.

I don’t know. But I know my bucket list is completely dolphin-free. Not that I object to dolphins; I think they’re quite interesting. But I don’t think they’d be that interested in swimming with me, and I’m quite happy to let them get on with doing whatever it is dolphins do.

Because one thing I have figured out is that if you’re not careful, life gets in the way of actually living. You get caught up in work, eat, sleep, pay the mortgage, tax the car… and suddenly, your life is half-gone and you feel like you’ve achieved nothing. Since I’m now very nearly officially in my late thirties, and I have grey hair, I’m having that incipient-mortality feeling (already). So my bucket list is all the things that, when I’m really old (not just working up to it, like I am now) I don’t want to be thinking “I really wish I’d made time to do that.”

I find it’s the quieter things that I would regret the most. I don’t really want to swim with dolphins, or go skydiving. I wouldn’t object to going to Uluru, but not ever going wouldn’t upset me either. But I want to practice law. I want to learn Arabic. I want to publish. I want to be good enough to shoot competitively.

I may not ever achieve these things, or not as well as I would like. But at least I will have made the attempt – I will have tried. Because the worst thing of all – worse by far than failure – is never to have made the attempt.

If you try and fail, then at least you know you tried. If you never even try, you’ll always wonder: “If I’d just had the guts – the will – the determination – could I have succeeded?”

So now I’ve got a Bucket List – which I shall keep updated, both with new things and progress on existing entries. Let’s see how it goes. 🙂


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