I suppose that having entered the Septuagenarian club, the idea to create a bucket list is something logically that would occur to me. Note the question mark in the title of this blog article. I’m not questioning whether or not people should make bucket lists, or whether having one is a good thing or not. I just wonder what they mean, why people feel the need to make them, and what difference they may or may not make in a person’s life. Creating a bucket list appears to speak to and resonate with many people on some level. No doubt setting goals to accomplish before the final tick of the clock sounds addresses the existential question about living life out to its fullest. In addition to those questions, obviously I have indeed pondered the big question of what I would put on my bucket list. (Is that really such a big question; perhaps to me it is J.) Like many journeys, however, the highway that bucket lists take us on appear to be more about the meaning in the journey, rather than merely checking an item off as done.
What Do Bucket Lists Mean?
Legitimately, to answer that question, I would have to ask as many people as I could who have taken the time to formulate a bucket list, and then proceeded to make them come true. Just given human complexity, I’m sure that the nuances of meaning are spread across people in ways that I would find out something interesting to ponder regardless of to whom and how many people I might interview.
Obviously the one big meaning revolves around the notion of finitude. There are things I want to get done before falling into the proverbial hole and covered with dirt. Perhaps my bucket list would contain things that I want to accomplish that would make my life feel more complete and meaningful before exiting the stage. Is that part of everyone’s bucket list, or is it just something that I think about? I pose that question because another component of my bucket list would entail having some fun, especially at this stage of my life. Simply put, there are some experiences I want to undergo. Are they deep, purposeful, and meaningful? I’m not really sure, but I know I would most definitely enjoy having some fun doing things that I’ve always thought about, but have yet to do.
On a personal level, my bucket list will contain experiences that I simply always wanted to engage, but have yet taken the time to do so. The three major themes that emerge for me are traveling, skill building, and encountering the unknown. About twenty-five years ago I decided to drive from Austin, Texas to Durango, Colorado simply to experience one thing I had always heard about, but had never done, though I had visited that state several times. I wanted to take the train ride from Durango up to an old mining town in the mountains called Silverton. The trip up to Silverton and back down to Durango crosses over some amazingly breath-taking mountain passes I had only heard about. Once I had experienced them, they became etched in my mind like a deep engraving carved deep into some medium. I can envision those mountain passes still to this day. And it’s an experience I want to have again.
Part of the fun of a bucket list is the unknown. I had no idea what I would experience on that train ride from Durango to Silverton. As importantly, I had no idea what other things I would encounter on my drive up to Durango. Driving Highway 84 from Texas through New Mexico on into Colorado provided some vistas I’ve never forgotten. I still drive over to Santa Fe now and then, and the two-lane stretch of Highway 84 north out of Fort Sumner into the capital still captures my soul. It never gets old. Seeing the Rockies when entering Colorado and following the path on Highway 160 up through Pagosa Springs into Durango is a mesmerizing drive to say the least. The same overwhelming experience of nature flooded over me again when I flew into Missoula, Montana, rented a car, and drove up to Kalispell and Glacier National Park. The first time my eyes set gazing on Flathead Lake was an encounter that will be forever cast on my neurons. A similar experience occurred when I drove out of Boston out to Cape Cod. So I long for those unknown discoveries that are cached in any bucket list event I might want to check off. It’s not the checking off that matters, but it’s all that goes into getting something done that I never figured on when I first made the plans to do something. I’m not sure about everyone else, but aren’t those unknown discoveries we make, and the unplanned experiences we encounter the stuff that life is made of? Like so many things in life, a bucket list may be about the journey rather than checking something off.
Obviously the theme above entails traveling, and such excursions appear to make up many individuals’ bucket lists. More journeys are definitely on my bucket list. One such trip is to Scotland at the end of this summer. I’ve already experienced Italy and Sicily. There are a couple of road trips here in the North America that I have my eyes set on that I believe will open up some new vistas and unknown experiences. The first, and one I’ve thought about sometime, is the Transcontinental Train Ride across Canada. It’s a fifteen-day tour that takes one from Ontario to Vancouver, and that’s through the Canadian Rockies. The second is a road trip from Austin through New Mexico, and into Arizona up to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. Along the way is the Petrified Forest. And then yes, there’s Winslow Arizona where I plan to stand on a corner, hoping to see a beautiful woman in a black pick-up Ford. (Just kidding about the last part. Or perhaps not J.) Many times life includes plans, experiences, and stepping into the unknown that makes living all that much more full. Such experiences can be planned only to a certain degree. Those experiences we don’t expect are the ones that knock our shorts off. And that’s all worth the effort.
As much as specific experiences like traveling, my bucket list entails some skill building I want to accomplish. After working a career for over thirty years, involving forty plus hours per week, there are some other talents I would like to develop. No doubt I will reach only the amateur level regarding these skills, but they entail some talents that I think I would enjoy adding to my repertoire. Some people want to learn to fly-fish, sail a boat, skydive, or obtain their pilot licenses. My list contains at least three things that will take some time to develop: nature photography, writing, and picking up another language. My writing is already being developed, but I want to take it to another level. Nature photography is going to require some classes and a lot of practice, which Austin, Texas can provide, as well as neighboring New Mexico. Learning a language is a skill-set that I’m in the process of working out. Skill development is personal development, and all kinds of experiences can lead to such development. And living is development if the effort is made. Likewise, these developmental goals will no doubt take me into some interesting unknown areas of life.
So what are bucket lists all about? Checking things off? I don’t think so. Reckoning with our finitude? I don’t believe that’s the case either, though it may play a part. Like anything we’ve pursued in life, bucket lists are about our living and carving out the kind of lives we hope to live. So if someone asks, why have a bucket list? The best answer is why not? From my perspective, there’s a spiritual element to pursuing yet to done and unknown experiences. Life affords us experiences, planned or unknown. We are afforded opportunities we can either embrace or shun. Though our travels and journeys into creating a more fulfilling life can to some extent be planned, it is those unknowns that come by stepping out on that plan that can really shape our experiences of the world and others. God’s creation is something to explore, as fully as one desires to do so. And it’s the unknown experiences that we come to know that many times appear to stick with us.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/June 14th, 2018