May 18, 2021

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Buckets and door frames

A few years ago I was surprised to discover I had surprised roomful of people.

“Surprise, surprise, surprise,” as Gomer Pyle used to say.

It was during the predictable and insufferable “fun ice-breaker game” at the beginning of a work training session. I’m not especially fond of fun ice-breaker games, or work training sessions.

I can’t remember what the exact activity was, but it involved sharing something from our personal “bucket lists.” (For the uninitiated, a bucket list is a list of the things you feel you absolutely must do before you die—or “kick the bucket,” as the expression goes.)

The big surprise came when I revealed I don’t have a bucket list. It turns out everybody has a bucket list! What’s the matter with me?

A couple of things are the matter with me, I guess. First of all, I’m a bit of a dullard. The usual bucket list items—skydiving is a recurring one, for some reason—don’t thrill me. I don’t have a need for speed. I’d rather float down a quiet river in a canoe for two weeks than break the sound barrier in a fast jet.

Mind you, if I must be confined to an airplane, I’m content to stay confined. I feel no desire to get out before we’ve safely landed.

But the other thing about bucket lists is the odd bit about the timing. There are to-do lists and wish lists, after all, but what makes a bucket list special is that it’s the stuff we feel we must do before we die.

Well when else would we do it?

How is “I’d like to see Venice sometime” a less-urgent priority than “I want to see Venice before I die”?  The time frame is identical.

It works the other way too. There’s some painting to be done around the house, and I intend to get to it. If I had told my group that painting the door frames was on my bucket list, while they all had dreams of leaping out of a perfectly good airplane, my dullard credentials would be firmly established.

But if I’m going to get that painting done; and if I accept that at some point I must die; it makes sense to paint first.

I don’t want to spend my life painting door frames, of course. There are places I’d like to visit, people I want to be with, new experiences to discover. And opportunities will still arise to try things I haven’t considered.

But I haven’t bothered to make a list. I think checking items off of a list would make them too deliberate and therefore less special; too predictable, so less exciting.

So what great experiences await me in the time before I kick the bucket?

I don’t know. Surprise me.