Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Kicking the Bucket List

A few of weekends ago I was hanging with a couple of friends. As is typical, our (only sometimes drunken) discussion topics wandered and morphed with all the randomness in the Universe. At one point, we rolled around to bucket lists. In case you've been living under a rock, in a cave, with no internet, DVD player, or running water, a bucket list is comprised of the things you want to do before you die - usually stuff like bungee jumping, climbing Kilimanjaro, drinking a good French wine at a café in the region it was made in, making love in a submarine. You make the list and check off the items you manage to accomplish.

As my friends were listing things, I felt that familiar uh-oh-they're-not-going-to-like-what-I-say thing scratching at my brain. Here it is. While it might be fine and dandy for everyone else, I don't have a bucket list. I don't want to have a bucket list. In fact, I will vehemently oppose having a bucket list. I threw mine away long ago. I did that because while I was working 50+ hours a week to accumulate a little bit of money and time to do some of the stuff on the bucket list, I was miserable. Then I'd go do the thing, which never managed to be as exciting as I thought it was going to be (you can begin humming "Is That All There Is" now). I'd come back, exhausted and depressed that I had to go back to work to start all over again so I could tick off another item on the list that I was supposed to have because Death is on the march and dear gods, I need to cram as much stuff in before I'm trampled into the ground.

I was so focused on big pictures that I missed out on a lot of glorious minutiae. I was so busy that I didn't have time for spontaneous fun. My bucket list turned into a millstone. "Hey, Barb. Want to go away this weekend? It's supposed to be sunny and the wildflowers are going crazy in the mountains." "I can't. I'm saving for..." Wait. Please don't misunderstand. I'm all for saving for big ticket fun. New experiences are necessary for our brains and souls. I am of the belief that everyone should experience at least one other country where they don't know the language and aren't completely familiar with the food - subject for a whole 'nother blog post.

What happened? People started dying, people with whom I was intimate enough that I sat at their bedside while they transitioned into whatever is beyond. I noticed that, especially at the end, all they wanted was a hand to hold - to love and be loved. None spoke of regret, or missing out on experiences, or wishing they'd seen the Great Wall of China. They talked of how fast it all goes by and how they wished they'd had more time with those they loved. In fact, my late mate John said it so eloquently before he passed away, "Cherish the moments. It's all about those precious little moments. Just live and love."

I began looking back at moments rather than at events, trips, and grand experiences. I realized those were my bucket moments, the things that were forever etched in my heart. I realized something else, too. None of those moments were planned. Not a single one. None of them were part of some great Gotta Do This Before I Die scheme. More importantly, none of them could ever be striven for or repeated. And I have thousands of those moments collected. Hundreds of thousands.

Here are a few, a very small sampling indeed, in no particular order:

  • Sitting with my uncle in his attic on a rainy afternoon, listening to old American blues music recorded on 78 LPs on an old hand-crank phonograph. Pure magic.
  • The tears in my brother's eyes as he talked about how proud he was of his sons.
  • A long ago, sultry summer evening - my hair and bathing suit still damp from the pool. I sat at the picnic table eating watermelon while my Dad sat across from me smoking a cigarette. When I close my eyes, I can still smell the watermelon, the chlorine from the pool, the cigarette smoke, and the scent of turpentine on Dad's shirt, all mingled on that ineffable thing that makes summertime smell like summer. 
  • An evening spent sitting at a poolside bar at Disney World, laughing hysterically over family shenanigans with my sister, her husband and two of my nephews. Nine thousand things to do, see, and enjoy at Disney World, and that was the most fun we had the whole time.
  • Coming around the bend at the top of Hurricane Ridge last Summer and watching my dear friend's tearfully emotional reaction upon seeing the glittering teeth of the Olympic mountain range sprawled out in front of us. 
  • My mother's eyes when I finished playing the Rachmaninoff concerto for my senior piano recital - a mix of pride and wonder at the human being I was becoming.
  • Sitting on my Grandma's porch, playing John Denver songs on my guitar while she crocheted. "Play da von about da fedder bed," she said in her Hungarian accent.
  • The self-pleased look in my Beloved's eyes the other day - the look that said, "I love seeing you happy and I love that it's because of me."
There are so many more, and I count myself blessed that there are. For all the sorrows, and even within the sorrows, the moments I recall most are made of tremendously rich stuff. I don't need to plan big things to feel that. I need only be open to what's right in front of me. I don't need no stinking buckets.

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