The Bucket List

“Do you have a bucket list,” Theresa asks, as a big semi whizzes by us as we head on I-10 to the Tucson airport.

“Not really.”

 “Driving a truck is one of mine,” she proclaims, “but they scare me.”

I immediately consider my own truck phobia, convinced that if I am to die on the highway, it will be at the hands of a semi whizzing into my lane without seeing my car.  Maybe I should have a bucket list.

“I want the challenge of mastering all those truck gears, learning to operate such a gigantic vehicle.” While that’s a reasonable concept, and at times I’ve glorified the idea of being a truck driver in my head, shooting the shit in a macho world, I remember how much difficulty I have figuring out where the right side of my Subaru is, let alone, how to maneuver a big rig.

“I guess I sort of have a bucket list,” I confess, “but the only thing on it is driving a huge tractor.”

“Yeah, I’d like to drive one of those too,” says Theresa.

“I don’t know why I want to drive one, but it always sounds amusing to me to be sitting way up high, rolling down a big field in the middle of Kansas or somewhere.”

Theresa doesn’t know me. She’s my parents’ cleaning lady and has graciously accepted to take me to the airport. I carefully watch my words, not wanting to insult her, figuring my usual snarky self extolling the virtues of  a city girl driving a tractor might land me in a seat of silence for the remainder of the drive. But I am curious about bucket lists.

“What else is on your bucket list,” I ask her, figuring that people’s bucket lists are like a personal ad into their personality.

“I want to go to Ireland.” In our ten minutes in the car, Theresa had already learned that my summer’s highlight would be a trip to Ireland with a group of students, wandering for a bit through the north and south.

Unlike me, Theresa wants to head there for two months to volunteer for Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall camp, helping children suffering from health issues, not wander into random pubs to have a pint of Guinness and hear songs accompanied by penny whistles.

“You should have a bucket list,” she tells me as we get closer to the airport.

I wonder why I don’t. If I survived uterine cancer, triumphed over a spouse that deserted me in the middle of a cancer battle, or proclaimed at least ten times in the space of a half hour that I am thankful to be alive, perhaps I would have a bucket list.

Once at the airport, I can’t let go of the concept of the bucket list, still perplexed about why I don’t have one. It’s certainly not because there aren’t things I care to do in my life, and it’s certainly not because I don’t think I might die before I end up doing those certain things.

With a gin and tonic in hand, I begin to ponder, wondering what is it about bucket lists that don’t make it into my personality lens. Is my lack of a bucket list simply related to my reluctance to articulate long-term goals? Is it part of my personality disorder that makes me fickle, unable to commit to ideas, thinking that either everything sounds like a grand possibility or everything sounds like a ticket into utter boredom and disappointment? Or is it simply that despite my cerebral acceptance of death, death has stayed a distant acquaintance, not penetrating the essence of my being?

Fortunately, I don’t have to linger on self-examination for long, because out of the corner of an eye I catch six paramedics wheeling an elderly woman dressed in a bright red sweatshirt on a stretcher, asking her if it hurts. All I can make out is something about “my heart.” I recall that this woman had set off the alarm when going through security, speculating if the stress of that led to whatever gave her a ride on a stretcher. I also wonder if she has a bucket list and how many things she’s crossed off.

I post an update on Facebook asking “Do you have a bucket list? If so, what’s on it?” I am hoping someone can give me a lens into what makes people create such a list. It’s been five minutes and nobody has answered. Perhaps the circle I travel in does not have a bucket list. I also wonder if when the bartender asked me if I wanted a double and I said no, just a single, that she did indeed make me a double. I refresh the screen on Facebook and still no answer.

Apparently this is something I need to figure out for myself, something that I need to explore rather than rely on the kindness of strangers.

Once on board the airplane to Denver, I gravitate toward an open window seat next to a couple I imagine are reading matching James Patterson novels (thinking I could refer to them as the Patterson twins); certainly they must have a bucket list.  I first start with some minor chit chat about where they’re heading, gauging whether they might chat it up and help me understand my quest. When they reply with a simple “San Diego,” I try once more to test their willingness to converse.

“Ah, so you are headed east to then go west and north?”

“Yup,” they answer. Clearly, I should not disturb them, since apparently I am unwilling to disturb my own consciousness and dig into my lack of a bucket list.

35,000 feet high in the air I play a little game in my head called If I had a bucket list, it would contain...” And then the game ends almost immediately after I’ve started it, finding myself distracted by the clouds, thinking that if I believed in destiny and fate, I would see the sign of the earlier conversation with Theresa about the bucket list as a reminder to me of the frailty of life--a woman passes me in a stretcher in the airport and the plane is currently bouncing around a bit more than my gin & tonic stomach desires. Perhaps this is a universal message about the need to prioritize my wishes, being conscious about having them, rather than looking at life as something that seems to happen whether I direct its course or not.

Rather than reflect for too long, I decide to occupy the plane ride with listening to podcasts, reading random essays that have nothing to do with bucket lists and life decisions, and playing games on my iPad. However, by the end of the plane ride, the idea of the bucket list continues to nag at me, and unfortunately, I am now even more befuddled about the concept, hoping that before the evening ends, I might be a bit closer to understanding my aversion to the bucket list.

Fortunately, my Facebook friends ultimately triumph for me, showing me that people I consider of my ilk (NPR geeks, avid readers, educators) have some direction to offer. One points me in the proper direction when she posts “I have never thought of my stuff to do as bucket lists, just desires that I hope to fulfill (cooking class in Oaxaca, as well as about seven other places; exploring all over South America…). When I give it this new lens, one of stuff to do, the frame fits.

I start composing my list of things I want to do: wandering the streets of Istanbul, dining at a tiny bistro and sipping a glass of chateauneuf de pape off in a bucolic French town, seeing the Northern lights, riding a century, publishing my writing, volunteering as a cook at a local organization that makes meals for people with AIDS, standing in the cemetery of Wolochisk picturing my grandfather’s stories of his youth. But are these a bucket list?

Not exactly, because if you asked me to compose a list of things I wanted to do before I died, I probably wouldn’t put any of the above on such a list (OK, except I confess, publishing my writing). Making a list that screams there is a final line when it comes to time is just not my thing. Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, or the day after the day after tomorrow, what matters to me, what bubbles to the top, will most certainly change, depending on my interests, my mood, my lens of how I am currently viewing the world.

But what will remain constant on the list are the values, the meaning behind my desires. I will always want to travel to another time zone, have a fine meal, be mesmerized by a phenomenon I don’t understand, and discover something related to my family or my cultural attachments. So, even though I won’t call it my bucket list, my current scroll of things I want to do and experience are that personal ad into my personality.


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