Taking the bucket out of the list

Last month I asked my creative writing students to watch The Bucket List, that funny, feel-good movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.

Nicholson and Freeman play two terminally ill old men who, despite the stark differences in their circumstance (Nicholson is a thrice-divorced business mogul while Freeman is car mechanic with exceptional IQ), become friends and embark on the biggest adventure of their lives before they – well, kick the bucket. Which is an idiom for die. The bucket list thus is a list of things one wants to accomplish before one dies. The premise is that death is imminent.

The old men's merged list included witnessing something majestic, driving a race car, skydiving, laughing until they cried, and kissing the most beautiful girl in the world. Along the way the two sick men also stumble into realizations about their relationships with their loved ones.

(Chris Botti renders a deeply moving trumpet score near the end of the movie, and John Mayer sings “Say” as the credits roll.)

I think my students enjoyed the activity: it was not really testing their creative writing skills. I simply wanted them to pause and think about what they really want to do with their lives, terminal disease or not. Such self-awareness and direction would get them through the bad times that are yet to come.

Then again, you can take the word “bucket” out of my students' lists. They are, after all course, a bunch of teenagers (mid- to late teens, I think, with a sprinkling of those in their early 20s) quite excited to get out of school and venture into the real world. What was characteristic in most lists was, foremost, to live comfortably, travel, and pursue careers and build families.

This got me into thinking. I had just turned 35 and realized that I had been able to much less accomplish what these kids wrote down in their lists. I had finished my studies (and may just embark on a quest for higher education). I had been married and had four lovely children (okay, the marriage failed but the kids are great). I write for a living and there is nothing else I would rather do (of course it does not make me rich, I still take public transportation, live in a rented shoebox and mark paydays on my calendar with a smiley.) I am pretty much okay.

Given this, I still have my bucket list. Which reads:

1. Have a nice single detached house where I can have a room of my own and each of the kids would have their own spaces for which they would be responsible, as well.
2. Go on a pilgrimage to Rwanda, Kosovo and Auschwitz.
3. Live in Europe while working on something – a book project, a writing assignment, a humanitarian mission.
4. Win a literary award.
5. Have a healthy relationship with each of my kids who would grow into successful, happy and loving persons.

That's really my list. Short and sweet. Others that did not make it here are probably nice to have, but these ones would be nicer. Even if I CAN live, and die, without them.

I guess I have to take the bucket out of these, as well. They would be especially sweet even without -- or especially without -- the imminence of death.

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