Adding meaning to your “Bucket List”

The title of the 2007 Morgan Freeman, Jack Nicholson movie “The Bucket List” quickly became a household phrase. Originally referring to things one might want to do before dying, it’s now come to mean “things we want to do but haven’t gotten around to yet.” More often than Jennifer Garner or Samuel L. Jackson ask, “What’s in your wallet?” we’re now asked, “What’s on your bucket list?”

It’s a question with spiritual implications that go beyond wanting to check off “sky-dive” or “see the pyramids.” There are other desires, inner whispers that echo Peggy Lee’s song “Is That All There Is?” Something deep within most of us just doesn’t want to accept what an ancient author wrote on what must have been a very bad day: “Meaningless! Meaningless!, says the Teacher. Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, New International Version) Life is too short to settle for that. The search for meaning motivates us every day of our lives, but how do we find this elusive meaning? Perhaps the answer is to examine your bucket list and making sure it isn’t missing something vital.

Is “restoring a broken relationship” on your bucket list? Does a former friend or an estranged family member come to mind, someone with whom you have been intending to patch things up? But, we let our busy lives or sometimes our egos get in the way. We might hesitate to make the call or send the e-mail due to fear of rejection. “I’ll get around to it,” we convince ourselves. “It’s on my bucket list.” But time marches on, and the mortal journey is finite. How many people have we all known who waited too late to do or say what needed to be done or said? As the “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” reminds us:

The moving finger writes and, having writ moves on

Nor all your piety nor wit can lure it back to cancel half a line

Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.

“Giving back” is also on many of our bucket lists. For the most part, we have good lives with friends and family and health, food to eat and a roof over our heads. And with our blessings comes a nudge to pay our gratitude forward to community agencies that need volunteers, children who need tutors, or lonely people in assisted care centers who need a listening ear. There are oppressed, abused, or at-risk populations who need advocates. There are causes that cry out for champions. “One of these days when I have a bit more time, I’m going to do this-or-that,” we think. “It’s on my bucket list.” But, you know the saying about good intentions. Often when we hesitate, needs that are urgent are inadequately addressed. I’ve always found this litany of questions compelling:

“If not this, what? If not now, when? If not me, who?”

The more we give, the more we receive in joy and meaning. The more we do to enhance life for others, the more our own lives are enhanced.

What about enhancing your own personal life?

How often have you vowed, “I’m going to start doing a few things for myself”? We know that placing our own wants and wishes ahead of everything else leads to a shallow, superficial life lacking depth and meaning. However, to ignore one’s own needs consistently is to lead an unbalanced and, in time, unhappy life. We must attend to self-care in order to be strong and stable enough to properly care for others. “One of these days I’m going to start exercising … gardening … biking … golfing … going to the theater … taking up a hobby … etc. It’s on my bucket list.” So, when will “one of these days” finally arrive? What is wrong with “this day”? Joy deferred is joy surrendered. If there are things you have always longed to do, why would you wait? I reiterate: Self-care empowers us to properly care for others. Find joy, and then you will be able to share it.

“What’s on your bucket list?” Whatever it is, if it’s important enough to be in the bucket then it’s important enough not to remain there.

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