“Bucket lists” make a commodity of experiences that would have been best allowed to unfold organically in the course of a life well-lived, not collected to a checklist under controlled conditions for their own sake. For example, a combat jump would be a part of your legacy that your descendants talk about proudly but a commercial skydiving jump is just a more extreme kind of self-amusement. Adrenaline matters when cranked up in service to a higher cause, or when you’re struggling against events larger than you. Chasing novelty for its own sake is fighting ennui with thrills.
Certainly, there might be some place you’ve always wanted to visit that you never got around to, or something you have always wanted to do. That’s normal, as long as you don’t turn those things into a list of activities that are an end in themselves.
Because ultimately, nobody cares that you hiked in Nepal where logistics and safety were not in question. In fact, you might not even care beyond the selfie-value of that trip. In contrast, a farmer who had spent his entire life raising livestock and repairing his equipment and who had never left North Dakota will have had a more satisfying and meaningful life than a bungee-jumper, even by the standards of adventurous people.
Typing the above paragraph just now, I recalled a scene from Kieslowski’s “Blue,” in which Juliette Binoche’s mother was dying in a comfortable hospice. The old woman sat there with that lifeless look in her eyes, blankly watching bungee jumpers on her television. That scene is the apotheosis of meaningless materialism.
There is also a science-fiction story I read in my adolescence, don’t recall the author. It is set in a future in which man had achieved mastery over all chaos, eradicating all danger and harm. The consequent malaise of spirit created a demand for adventure, for heroism, for self-sacrifice. So in response to a market demand, companies formed to provide their clients with an experience of adventure, heroism, self-sacrifice; all perfectly safe, natch. You could pay, for example, for this service-provider to stage a “boating accident” in which you heroically rescue someone from drowning. The potential victim, who is an actor, was never in harm’s way, of course, but the protagonist got to experience the facsimile of handling an open-ended crisis in which something important was at stake.
Bucket list chasers also forget that inner life is important. It doesn’t require external stimulation and it can be cultivated under the most restrictive conditions. All you need is silence. Just put yourself into the consciousness of that North Dakota farmer. The hours and days that he had spent under the big sky, the sounds of birds as the summer evenings darkened.
Life is to be lived and I’ve always had this restless, risk-taking edge. I’m successful because I made daring moves under apparently hopeless circumstances, doing things that made little sense in terms of conventional wisdom at the time, but they made an inarticulate kind of sense to me as long as I trusted my instinct. And I’ve had a good time along the way, which is why I don’t have a bucket list.
Life also has its spices, like on the following list. It’s not the kinds of experiences you’d see on a typical list of things to do before one dies, as they are rather low-key and foolish in some cases. They also give life its flavor if experienced as a byproduct of more consequential endeavors:
Things on that list I haven’t done:
- Broken a bone. Knock on wood.
- Ridden a horse.
- Gone on a cruise. Hell no never.
Of the things on that list that I did, “No. 1. Skipped school” in high school is the best. My friends and I always hooked school with Ferris Buelleresque panache, never out of mere laziness. There are geographic landmarks where the ghosts of our carefree days had left a mobile palimpsest. You can hear them if you listen closely.