I have to admit that the term bucket list hardly rated a mention in my life until recently. Sure I had seen the 2007 movie, ‘The Bucket List’ and enjoyed it. And I had in the back of my mind a list of things I would love to do one day. Good old ‘one day’! Sadly for too many that ‘one day’ is the day that never comes.
Yes, I’d love to explore the ruins at Machu Picchu, drink a cold beer while listening to jazz in New Orleans, walk the Camino, explore those rugged cliffs on the West Coast of Ireland and convince Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel to add an extra chorus to the finale of Les Misérables!
What is a bucket list? Is it a list of those things you would dearly love to do one day? Is it a list of dreams? Is it a list of those things you hope to do before you die? Is it idealistic? Is it realistic? Is it a bridge too far?
In May of 2021 a dear friend of mine died. This man, one of my Religious Brothers, had been a man who had inspired me as a young Religious by his spirituality. It was he who introduced me to the concept of ‘coming as guest’ to the sacred ground of encounter – one of the first blogs I ever wrote. It was he who taught me about the power of presence. This man invited my brotherhood to leave our traditional schools and work with poor and powerless youth on the edges of society.
Some two years ago my friend was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. Despite a short period in remission – the cancer came back and he knew he was embarking upon his final journey. I had the privilege of living in community with my friend for the last couple of years of his life. I had the privilege of walking some of his final journey with him. I sat by his bed in palliative care, held his hand, shared memories and thanked him for being friend and brother to me.
At the start of his final two year journey my friend sat down one day and wrote his own bucket list. This is what he wrote;
My Bucket List
- To be as productive as I can ….
- To keep contact with friends ….
- To be as healthy as possible ….
- To keep my sense of humour ….
- To maintain a deep sense of presence ….
- To be as brave as I can be ….
- To keep a sense of reflection ….
- to be more aware of all around me ….
- To look at how wonderful my life has been not at what I’m losing ….
- To realise that if this moment isn’t good enough, then no moment will ever be ….
- To respond to the challenge to live life gratefully ….
- To learn to live each day as it comes, and not borrow trouble by dreading tomorrow!
My friend did not articulate what he hoped he might do ‘one day’. He articulated what he wanted to do today. He articulated what he wanted to be today. Not one of the items in his bucket list related to a thing. He did not wish for more things, he did not want to go places, he did not seek to experience the great and wonderful and majestic; he wanted to BE more – the journey within.
One of my most treasured possessions are a couple of envelopes full of handwritten recipes in my friend’s handwriting (just as the bucket list is). Until probably his last month my friend would cook a beautiful meal for the community, assiduously studying the recipe, seeking odd ingredients, patiently mixing and baking and serving – all touched with love. Until the last month he would check our rain gauge and record any precipitation, note new buds, flowers and growth in our garden and never cease to listen to the stories of our day.
One of the most emotionally intelligent men I have known my friend knew pain, he knew suffering, he knew that we are all contradictions and have feet of clay; he had his too! My friend loved poetry; Mary Oliver, Rumi, Tagore and his favourite Mark Burrows. During his final journey I would sit by his bed and just read poetry to him; it gave him a great sense of peace.
So sure, let’s have our ‘one day’ Bucket List but it can never be as precious, as life giving and as transforming as our day to day living into our best selves. Will I one day get to Machu Picchu? Maybe – but ultimately who cares! Will I one day walk the Camino, sip that cold beer while listening to jazz in New Orleans – maybe, but ultimately who cares! For all of us, if our bucket list is a list of places and plans, we will bring who we are to those places and to those plans. But tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that I will strive to;
- Face my fears one small step at a time
- Not go to sleep on anger or regret
- When in doubt, share story
- Risk vulnerability
- Waste time with my heart and the people of my heart
- Trust my dreams
- Let go of regrets
- Find beauty in the simple things of my day
- Smile and laugh and be gentle
- Spend time in nature
- Get my hands dirty in the garden
- Listen to and for story
- Look into the eyes of those I encounter
- Speak words that encourage and give hope
- Be an instrument of healing and
- Know we are all held in a love beyond words – in mystery and in awe
If I can be and do even a little of ‘my list’ above – I will walk my final journey well.