Last night my husband (a little drunk from drinking Old Fashioneds in the yard with our friend Jon) came to bed and said a bunch of things that were very sweet – including the line “I don’t have a bucket list, because I can’t imagine a life with anything else in it than I already have.” And I realized when he said it that I have never had anything approximating a list of things I want to do before I die. Not only that, but the idea of creating one feels artificial and odd because while some of life is planning, a lot of it is also just luck and circumstance, and even more than that – it’s personal temperament. If you have to put skydiving on a list of things you would like to do – it seems to me that you’re not someone for whom skydiving has been much of a priority which might speak to a personality that is actually happier doing other things. And yet everyone has this on their bucket list for some reason (for the record, I had a great-uncle who had skydiving on his list, snuck out from his family on his 80th birthday and did it, damaged his legs in the process and pretty much never got out of bed again – so don’t wait too long on these things if they really are that important.)
I do understand that life is full of chores and obligations, so we might not always get around to everything we think we might want, but it does seem that there is a great unhappiness in creating these lists and the message out there seems to be that one needs one in order to live a fulfilled life. And that notion goes hand-in-hand with some idea about what fulfillment looks like (travel, endless adventure, exciting parties, sexy people).
In my life (and the life of my husband) fulfillment looks like having a compatible life partner and a kid who is doing pretty good in the world, work which affords us some material comfort, little projects worked on together and apart, travels into the local forests, and fun times with our friends. It’s not the kind of stuff you put on a list, really. But it is the kind of stuff that you build together, bit by bit, constructing one experience onto the next from foundation, to frame, to finished product.
It would be foolish to say that we don’t plan and strive for things when we are paying off a house in Vancouver and building a cabin the countryside – it is not that we sit contentedly in the present without any thought for “what next” – but at the same time we are not grasping for experience, we are not hungry for more more more. Which is to me what the bucket list represents…. the unquenchable thirst for experience beyond everything else. As though a life is built by climbing Machu Pichu and then skydiving and then going to Mardi Gras because #YOLO.
Peak experiences are grand in their place – but we seem to forget that they are simply the punctuation in the sentence – not the sentence itself. We should not let them dominate our imaginations or desire, thinking “if only I could do this thing or that thing — then I would be happy”.
On the outside, perhaps it looks as though my life is terminally boring because it is not full of drama, and I don’t care much for international travel. But I am never bored (for real – never), and I am rarely unhappy with the substance of my days. (Though, yes, it would be nice to work less days and have more time for my own projects – on the other hand, I love my home and my ability to pay for said home). I am frequently blown away by the beauty of the landscapes right on our back doorstep – the mountains, rivers, and ocean of BC give us endless opportunities for adventure. When I sit alone, I may choose to meditate, or to knit. Read a book, play my fiddle. I am never without the capacity to make art, or to consume it in the endless environment of culture that we live. I am never without the deep sense of home that I have cultivated in myself and build on with my partner. How could I be bored with this or unfulfilled?
On the one hand, that is privilege. And on the other hand, it’s an orientation. It’s something that we develop in opposition to this culture of cheap thrills and consumer adventure in order to find the truth of this life for ourselves.