the bucket list

forbidden city

I saw the movie “The Bucket List” and, to put it charitably, I sneered. It was a tear-jerker, a four-hankie sobfest and I didn’t care for the moralistic tone.  Yet the more I thought about it, I wondered why it was such a bad idea, despite the silly movie.  Why shouldn’t we have a bucket list?

Depending on what day of the week you catch me on, I’ll have one of three ideas about the reason for human life:

  1. Continuation of the species (with the admittedly naive caveat that it should be continued AND improved, not just continued)
  2. Creation of art, exploration of the universe and better understanding of humanity (and all life).
  3. Maximization of one’s own self-development (ideally for the benefit of all but ultimately for your own benefit).

#1 and #2 aren’t easy – but #3 is a bear. I’m not even going to link to it, but if you visit Steve Pavlina’s blog and read about his experiment with polyamory (extending love to other people not your spouse) you’ll see that you can make things very difficult for the ones you love in the name of “self-development.”  If you go off to meditate on the mountain for a year, fine, but if you have three kids, or a sick parent, or a dog, then maybe self-development’s a bit selfish in the short run.

Be that as it may, I think that you can’t neglect any one of these three reasons without a little bit of loss. You don’t have to have kids, for example, to help with reason #1 but you should put some effort into the betterment of mankind “after you.”  You don’t have to create art or discover Planet X, but you ought to somehow move humanity’s knowledge forward to support #2.  And you don’t have to become a self-centered ass to address point #3, but you ought to spend a little bit of time on making yourself a bit better than you were a day/week/year ago.

My bucket list is ill-formed. I have a few things that I have always dreamed of, which probably sound tedious…but they are mine…

  1. I’d like to visit the Forbidden City. Despite being a frenetic world traveler, I’ve never been to China, a country I’ve read about endlessly.  Why?  Dunno.  I have no racial/ancestral/etc. connections to China, but I’ve always been curious about it.  Singapore’s the closest I’ve been.
  2. I’d like to visit the Gobi Desert. No reason, other than wanting to see it.  I’ve been to Siberia already, so you’d think I’d have had my share of desolate areas, but no.   I would like to stand in the desert and proclaim that these three things are best in life:  to vanquish your enemies, see them driven before you and to hear the lamentations of their women (bonus points for identifying the pop culture reference).
  3. I’d like to write a book. Why?  Because I like to think of myself as the type of person who could write a book.
  4. I’d like to run a marathon.  I am in horrible running shape (although I still bike long distances).  I know I could do it, though – when I was running on a frenetic basis I could run half-marathons without much effort.
  5. I’d like to see my grandchildren (not as much of a given as it might be for other, younger, parents – I’ll be 74 when Little Buddy is the same age as I was when I had my first child).  Small thing, but then again, a big thing.
  6. I want to visit Bubelah’s childhood home in the former Soviet Union. And I want to take my kids to Moscow.  Why?  Because that city almost screams with history, both personal and global.
  7. I’d like to take care of Bubelah in her 80s (no small accomplishment since then I’d be in my 90s).  That’s a bucket list item that’s almost in the bucket, just not quite..


Anybody can put together a travel list, and it’s odd that most “bucket lists” I see are highly concentrated on travel and skydiving. I could give less of a hoot about skydiving/surfing/etc. – that’s just not me.  Other “must do’s” aren’t on my list, either.  I don’t have much desire, for example, to read “Crime and Punishment.”  I’d LIKE to be the type of person who had that on my bucket list, but I’ve started that damn book a half dozen times and every time I fall asleep before I’ve hit the 100th page.

One thing I do know is that although some of the bucket list items don’t require a dime to accomplish, many of them require a fair million dimes to accomplish. Money’s not necessary to buy happiness, but if you want to visit China with kids (i.e. hostels and super-budget travel being out of the question), money’s going to make the journey easier.

So while I’m not the guy who’s going to sniffle if I never parasail or eat monkey brains (had the chance, took a pass), I do think I’d benefit from making a list and starting to check it off.  Maybe I’ll start today. Maybe you should, too.


photo by FranciscoDiez

<! –