I used to have a list of three things I wanted to do before I died. Publish a book of poetry was on it, back in my poetry writing days. Do a triathlon was also on it, and I’ve neatly ticked that one off. The third is a mystery to me. I just can’t remember. Travel? Probably. Learn to cook? Maybe. Bungee-jump? Possibly, although I feel like whatever it was I’ve done it and I surely haven’t bungee-jumped.
During the middle-depths of winter, somewhere in December buried in heavy snow and woolen blankets, Phil and I watched The Bucket List. It made me cry so hard I couldn’t hide it, which I usually manage successfully. I had been meaning to update my own bucket list, and that movie gave me the final kick in the pants to actually sit down and do it. I set aside mental time to write it in Nicaragua. As fate would have it, instead of sitting on a tropical beach contemplating my own conceptual mortality, I’d be sitting in a hospital while sixty-below winds howled outside, muddling my way through my father’s death. While I had all the time in the world sitting in that uninspired waiting room, I couldn’t write my bucket list. I kept thinking about it but brushing it off because it felt too damn morbid and just a wee bit cliche.
I’ve gained some distance in the past few months and my thoughts have returned to updating my list. To be truthful, I haven’t even thought about what to put on it. I’ve spent more time, much more time, contemplating how to structure this post than the content to put in it. And now I’m procrastinating rather than getting to the nitty-gritty of figuring out what I want to accomplish before I die.
I’ve thought long and hard about why making this list is so damn important to me. And I think I’m starting to piece together the puzzle – if mi papa had a list, or a plan, he hid it well. He also lived a great many days without any direction and ended up between a very hard rock and a very solid place. He died with nothing and I suspect that he did a great deal of worrying in his final months about where he was going to live, who was going to take care of him, and how he was going to retain any dignity until his days were through. I think all that worry might just have been what actually killed him. I’d been worrying, too, and had started putting a plan into place to have him come live with us. I hadn’t talked to him about it yet, but my brain had been working and I’d been looking at houses with no small eye turned towards details that would allow him a comfortable life.
I wasn’t the only one. A good friend of his also picked up on the stress and was also trying to figure out a way to have mi papa live with her. This confirms, at least for me, that I was not imagining or projecting his stress about all this, I wasn’t the only one who picked up on it.
But, the list. So I’m beginning to think that some direction, a few goals, are good to keep me on track. I want to be a lot like my dad, but living aimlessly with nothing is not one of the things I aspire to. I am good at reaching goals when I set them, so first I need to figure them out. Writing this is hard, however. It’s not like my previous list of three things – it’s not all fun things that would be an interesting challenge. In writing this, in thinking about it, I feel as if I’m shaping my future. Which I guess I am. But it’s big and heavy and akward and I don’t want to do it wrong.
But without further adieu:
– finish college. get a damn degree. have a piece of paper that justifies the debt.
– travel more.
– start a retirement account. Oooh, check. I made my first deposit this past pay period. I need more, a lot more, but first steps are important.
– find a reliable, still, quiet place within myself. As noted before, I soak up ambiant stress. If someone around me is working frantically, I work frantically, too. If a friend at work hates a co-worker, I find myself harboring negative feels about that co-worker, too. I need to establish a grounded norm within myself and I need to learn how to protect it.
– Be able to identify at least a half-dozen wild, edible mushrooms; three dozen birds; and most flowers and plants I see on a regular basis. I do this out of curiosity and homage to my father who knew all this stuff but didn’t really pass it on.
– Field dress and butcher something I plan to eat. I do not like this, I do not really want to do it, but I should know how and it’s on my list of things to learn.
– Learn to play my fiddle. And my guitar. And at least a few songs on the harmonica.
– Keep my health a priority. Maintain a healthy weight, keep up my physical activity, and deal with any mental issues.
– Build and maintain the relationships around me. This is hard for me, sometimes, being a hermit and all. I’d rather say “no” and stay home than accept an invitation. I get all worried about small talk and details and I get distracted in busy environments. I’d rather my phone didn’t have voice mail, I’d rather someone call relentlessly if it’s important or give up if it’s not. But it’s good the world doesn’t run according to my knee-jerk preferences because I’ve been isolated and lonely and that is far, far, far worse. And I keep hoping that all the details in social engagement will get easier if I keep practicing them.
This is really a lame list as far as lists go. I like neat lists, with check boxes, lists you can crumple up and recycle when all items have been completed. This list reads more like a values statement or ideology – there is no clear beginning, there is no clear end and I cannot crumple it up and throw it away because these things (most of them) will never be finished. But it’s what I’ve got for tonight.