The Middle Ages are often when people start thinking about the things they still want to do before they die. Some start Bucket Lists: things to do and places to go before “kicking the bucket.”Tasks include anything from learning to ride a bike to traveling to remote corners of the earth. For those who have trouble coming up with ideas of their own, there’s a website to help. Bucketlist.org even provides an on-line system for marking activities accomplished and serving as a social media forum for those who take the “To Do” list approach to living seriously.
I find the idea of a Bucket List offensive, and the first thing I’d cross off my bucket list is the list itself. I don’t believe in them, but prefer to take life as it comes, which means opening the door when opportunity knocks and living full steam ahead.
Sure, there are things I’d like to do, if life allows: hike the Grand Canyon, hike the Long Trail end-to-end, hold grandchildren. But some things are out of my control. Grandchildren, obviously. And breaking my ankle while climbing Stratton last week cancelled my ascent of Mount Katahdin today.
Instead of my usual, overactive Maine vacation, I’ve watched the sunrise over Cadillac Mountain, witnessed the tide ebb and flow, and read several books all in one go.
None of these activities were on any list, bucket or otherwise. Nor would I ever recommend breaking an ankle as a way to find meaning in life. But taking lemons and making lemonade is a good skill to develop, and I’m glad to turn the major inconvenience of a minor medical event into a fabulous vacation. Grocery shopping requires a list, but finding meaning in current circumstances does not.
I know this might all sound like an elaborate cover for avoiding the spectacular bucket list items like BASE jumping, something 973 people have on their lists and nine have completed.
BASE jumping, for those who might want a boost of adrenaline in their ho-hum lives, is parachuting from a fixed object, such as a Building, Antenna, Span or Earth (as in a cliff). Anyone who successfully jumps off each of the four structures can apply for a number (almost 2,000 have been issued since 1981). People who fail get buried and don’t have to worry about finishing their Bucket List.
BASE jumping is even more dangerous than parachuting out of a plane, which is another popular Bucket List item, as is Wingsuit Flying, which is like BASE jumping, but in a birdsuit with fabric between the legs and under the arms. Wingsuits come with or without jetpacks; all are equipped with parachutes that sometimes fail to deploy.
There are certainly more modest Bucket List activities, including learning how to ride a bike, walk the Golden Gate Bridge, go camping, and picnic in Central Park. These happen to be four things I’ve done, although I never wrote them on a list – or crossed them off.
Nor have I made a list of Exotic Places I Must See. Had I done so, I don’t imagine the Republic of Georgia would have been on it. But it’s likely that’s one of the places I’ll have to go to see my kids. It’s a destination I’ll add to an ever-growing list of Places I Have Been. Frankly, I prefer a list that accrues items rather than one that has items you cross off when complete.
It’s this ticking tasks off the list that rubs me the wrong way. It’s true, once you learn to ride a bike, you never forget, but it’s not true that once you walk across the Golden Gate Bridge you never have to do it again, or you go camping only once in your life, unless you hate it. These are all things I’ve done and hope to do again and again until I die, at which point it’s too late to cross them out.
I want it known that I have experienced the momentary thrill of deliberately falling through the air. When I turned forty in my early Middle Ages, I deliberately swung on a rope into a river, overcoming a lifelong fear. Since then, I test every rope swing I come by; I’ve even overcome my fear of heights and jumped off modest rock ledges into deep water. So I understand the rush of risky behavior – in my limited way. But I’m also someone who understands that these seemingly risky activities are far safer than things I do daily, like drive an automobile, or ride a bicycle in traffic.
And that, really, is where my dislike of Bucket Lists originates. I don’t believe life is a series of frivolous tasks to be crossed off a list, and I do believe that daily life offers a series of peak experiences – if we pay attention to the moment we’re in. So, no Bucket List for me. I don’t want to keep my eye on the horizon where life ends, because I don’t know if that will be later today or in another forty years. All I know is that part of embracing Middle Age is acknowledging that the horizon where life ends gets closer daily, so I better make the most of Right Now.
Deborah Lee Luskin has a life-long obsession with The Middle Ages: Into the Wilderness is her award-winning love story between people in their mid-sixties. Learn more at www.deborahleeluskin.com