Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Bucket Lists

This weekend has been filled with investigations of where Beth and I might land for different parts of the year once my full-time work life comes to a close. For some people this is the ultimate bucket list pursuit: where will I retire? Or if you are a Clevelander or denizen of some other locale far to the north of the Mason-Dixon line, where will I spend my time as a “snowbird”? (In case you’re wondering the leading candidate is Bluffton, near our daughter Megan.)

But I don’t really think I have a bucket list. At least not a proper, traditional bucket list filled with items I’d like to check off before I check out. Beth has an informal one (we knocked off fly fishing in July); her really big remaining item is to visit Alaska and North Dakota and thus lay claim to membership in the elusive “50 State” club. The closest I have to a bucket list is my desire to help Beth knocks this one off.

After a lifetime of planning events, packing vacation trips with as much motion as possible, trying to visit the newest, bestest restaurants and “in spots”, now 78I can barely be bothered to answer the question “how would you like your Sunday afternoon to go?” let alone come up with a bucket list.

Duke divinity professor Kate Bowler was handed the terrible news that she likely had a terminal illness. Well-meaning mental health clinicians counseled her to create a bucket list of items to pursue as a way to “find her meaning.” She comes to view this advice with something much stronger than skepticism. “A bucket list disguises a dark question as a challenge: What do you want to do before you die?” She wonders if the focus of one’s life really ought to be the collection of experiences. “[I]t is much easier to count items than to know what counts.”

Our weekend up until Beth’s well-meaning inquiry about my Sunday afternoon desires illustrates what counts for me, for us. On Friday we drove 3 1/2 hours to join our closest couple friends for dinner. Now, anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I loathe driving. But at the other end of that drive was a dinner that our friends Bill and Nancy really wanted to share with us. After a very short night it was back in the car for the drive home so that we could…wait for it…drive an hour to celebrate another couple’s 25th wedding anniversary. What counts for us has always seemed to be more about the “who” than the “what”.

Yet I can see the issue. Feel the pressure. “You must want to do something.” To which my response seems to pretty consistently be “sure there is”, as long as I’m doing it with people who mean something to me. Who count. When I look back I do actually remember what I was doing, but I always seem to remember stuff better if I was doing it with someone I cared about. I once read that we may not remember the details of our experiences terribly well, but we always remember how we felt at the time. Being with the people who count always seems to come with more intense, and ultimately more positive feelings.

A bucket list seems kinda like a scorecard, doesn’t it? Having an elaborate bucket list seems to promote a kind of scoring of the rest of one’s life. At least for me it might. Did your decisions pan out? Especially the big ones, the ones that came at a true crossroads moment. Each one of those decisions put you on the path of a singular life to the exclusion of all of the other lives that might have occurred had you chosen otherwise. Those lives may take place in a parallel part of the multiverse postulated by quantum physics and brilliantly illustrated in the Blake Crouch masterpiece “Dark Matter”, but in our one life each decision effectively ends an infinite number of other lives you might have lived. Is the encouragement to curate the remainder of life via a bucket list of big moments also a call to assess the road that brought you to the first item on your list?

Not for me. At least not by way of scoring or grading the journey, although I do enjoy recalling highlights, or those times when I, or some “we” I was part of, persevered or overcame. In this I find myself in sync with Dr. Bowler: “What strange math. There is nothing like the tally of a life…Our lives are unfinished and unfinishable. We do too much, never enough, and are done before we’ve even started.” On occasion a day may be hard, but for the most part they’ve been either good or great (HT Lance Armstrong, early post-cancer). Therein lies the single item on my bucket list: time. More time. I find myself immensely grateful for the time I’ve had. Profoundly fortunate to have been able to spend that time alongside Beth with people like Bill and Nancy. Our family. What particular moment, what specific experience, what winter’s nest is so special that it warrants a place on a bucket list?

My bucket list is nothing more than to be with the people in my life who count, making whatever time I’m fortunate to have left with them count for us all.

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