My whole life I have been obsessed
with doing something very special before I die
what people refer to as a bucket list.
My first bucket list item was visiting Australia
to explore its unique wildlife.
I was 13 when I made that first entry on the list
and I have been adding to the list ever since.
It was more of a plan list then a wish list.
Obviously, Death didn’t feel imminent then
I suppose it’s still not imminent now
but the irony is that these experiences
are more realistic for the very young
than for the somewhat old.
And only now do I realize that what I once termed plans
can now be better defined as wild fantasies
or at the very least,
bucket list items.
So in the spirit of re-examining
that dream or bucket list
I saw a documentary on the topic.
This short BBC documentary
features a 39 year old woman
with a diagnosis of terminal breast cancer.
Rowena Kincaid only has months to live
and she wants to make the best of them.
She is not clear however
on what items she wants to put on the list
and recruits the help of a psychologist
to help her to do it.
The psychologist turns out to be totally against
the idea of the conventional bucket list
which involves doing a bunch of extraordinary things.
Apparently, there is a consensus in the field of psychology
that happiness is not about doing or having
but about relationships and connectivity.
You can climb Mount Everest and feel really great
as you wave your arms on the peak
but how will you feel
when you come to back an empty hotel room
with nobody to share your accomplishment with?
Christopher McCandless (who inspired the film “Into the Wild” also alludes to this when he stated that
“Happiness is only real when shared”.
Deep down, I must have understood this
when I left University at 27
to have a huge family.
I had to know on some level that what I really needed
in order to be happy was a family,
my very own circle of love .
I also had to know
that this likely meant the end of my professional plans
Heck the end of all my plans outside of family life.
But I did it anyway.
Would have I made the same decision
if I had known that 24 years later
I would find myself feeling more alone
than I did when I was single?
Happiness may be about relationships
but having gambled on those relationships and lost
I can’t help wishing I had picked career and adventure.
Because now, I have none of the above.
It’s not over I suppose
I have youth and health for a few years more.
I can’t go back to that crossroad.
The kids are here and the other opportunities are nowhere
But having established that I don’t have many nurturing family relationships
should I give adventure a shot?
The other irony in this matter
is that I have a better chance
of creating meaningful relationships
with strangers I meet in travel
then I do in my own house right now.
One of the people Rowena meets in the documentary
who is in a similar situation
(having outlived his prognosis)
tells her that he just lives every day as though it were his last.
Perhaps that’s what we should all do
given that, like Rowena
(who is 12 years my junior by the way)
we can be stricken down at any time
And I have to ask myself
Would I be sitting in bed in my basement
day in and and day out
and Would I be working at this job that I hate
whose wages are not contributing in any way
to my quality of life
if this was my last day?
nobody can throw everything up in the air
and go on a binge
of doing nothing but fun and warm fuzzy things
in case they get hit by lightening tomorrow.
Even Rowena admits she still has to do house chores
in the midst of living out her last few months.
Living each day as though it were the last
may, as it is suggested at one point in the film
have more to do with a mindfulness of everyday joys
a sunset, a chirping bird, and of course the people who love us.
I did have a wonderful experience of walking my dog recently
as we made our way through a foot of colorful leaves
covering every inch of the ground,
Maybe that’s what it’s all about.
Except that there are so many more moments
of sadness and emptiness
than there are moments like those