Brian Kicks The …You Know

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Damnit! I never got to summit Ben Nevis!!!

Bucket List. It’s really a silly bunch of words to describe something that for many of us is so very dear and important. I personally detest the term.

Urban Dictionary defines the term thusly:

list of things to do before you die. Comes from the term “kicked the bucket”.

need to remember to add skydiving to my bucket list.

In other words, it’s a list of life’s grand ambitions.

I think most people do have a life’s grand ambitions. With some it might be comparatively simple and straightforward items…like falling in love or retiring from work or buying a house. With others, the list may be lengthy, far-flung and complex.

Bucket Lists are constrained by that holy trinity of life…Money, time, and imagination. Very few people have enough money to do EVERTHING they want to do. Perhaps even fewer have enough time to do everything they want (unless you are a trust fund baby or win the lottery, making all that money will likely use up a good thirty years of your life.) Imagination, on the other hand, is the product of a healthy and active mind, and the only upper limit on it is a person’s capacity to imagine. Therefore, the number of highly imaginative Bucket Lists that will never come to fruition greatly exceeds the number of simple ones that will. Human beings are, after all, ambitious and hopeful (as well as self-deluding) creatures.

The Mount Everest massif, Himalayas, Nepal.
This is on many Bucket Lists. https://www.britannica.com© Marta/Fotolia

I believe that the majority of people have a list of life’s grand ambitions…things they would like to do, if only but once in their life. We at BecauseItzThere certainly have ours.

Now, here’s my problem with it. It’s not the idea of the Bucket List I don’t like, I just disagree with the term, and moreover the origin of the term. To me a Bucket List is NOT something you should be hot to do before you die, because after you die, not a bit of this is going to matter.

Think about this for a moment. There are three conventional explanations of what happens when we die…

  1. Spiritual/Religious Explanation: Ascent to heaven (or equivalent transcendent state) where one is rewarded for virtuous conduct during Life 1.0. Or, descent via trap door to a place run by This Guy where eternal punishment is meted out for various failures to uphold the terms of service for Life 1.0.
  2. Quasi-Spiritual explanation: We are brought back thru a process of re-incarnation to live life out again in a different body. So, there is a life 1.1, 1.2, 1.2…in the software industry we call this ‘versioning.’ And as anyone who owns an Iphone or Android knows, new version are not necessarily improvements over the old ones. Being brought back as dung beetle, for example, would be a definite downgrade for most.
  3. Empirical Explanation: There is no Life 2.0. Life ends with death, after which there is nothing. The most pessimistic and least pleasant, but also simplest, answer.

No matter which of these three answers you believe to be true, one thing is obvious…There is absolutely no chance you will care about what remains undone in your Bucket List beyond the wall of death. If you are flying around paradise playing a harp in a state of eternal bliss, being roast on a spit, crawling around as a dung beetle or simply have ceased to exist…in NONE of those scenarios will you be spending any time at all worrying what you missed our on life.

It is completely pointless to think of your list of life’s grand ambitions in terms of how you will remember it all AFTER death. Rather, the list should be thought of in terms of the things you want to accomplish WHILE YOU ARE ALIVE. Calling this a Bucket List is therefore simply erroneous. This list is not about what you have done…it’s about what you WILL do. The purpose of life is to live it to fullest extent right up until the end because beyond that…well, we don’t know, don’t we?

So why then do I still call it the Bucket List? Simple…it’s the term everyone uses for it. You can choose to call yourself a sanitary engineer if you want, but in the end, if your job involves mopping floor, emptying trash cans and hurling the occasional handful of sawdust onto pools of vomit, then what you really are is a janitor. I could call it a “Bliss List” or whatever highfalutin title I want, but what I’m really talking about is still a Bucket List. So rather than call it something else and be forced to explain myself every time, I might as well just call it what it is.

Plus, almost anything else I call it will sound equally silly, and probably involve more typing.

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One our Bucket List this year. Image courtesy of http://www.bikepacking.com/

Before we think about what’s on our Bucket Lists, let’s talk about how you define one. Human ambitions are as myriad as stars in the sky…we obviously won’t all want the same things. Let us then try to find a consensus about the KIND of things that would be worthy of inclusion on our Bucket Lists.

Our definition of a “Bucket List” item is, an extraordinary thing that a person can aspire to in an ordinary human lifetime.

We completed this Bucket List hike in 2012, the year after we were married…

Salkantay to Machu Picchu: The Lost City of the Incas

All the things in our Bucket List are hikes, but not all the hikes we take are worthy of the Bucket List. Some things are larger and grander in scope than others. There’s a reason why every canyon in the US deeper than ten feet is called the “Grand Canyon” of the something. It’s the frame of reference, the great thing every hole in the ground aspires to. But most canyons simply don’t measure up to the term. They may be grand canyons of the something, but they aren’t truly grand. But the Grand Canyon IS Grand.

You may have other things in your own list, and maybe some of them are hikes or maybe not. But the same rules apply. The things that belong in the Bucket List are the great things…things that transcend the ordinary, which we can reasonably aspire to experiencing.

A Bucket List item IS…

  • A majorly thing or experience
  • Unique
  • Personal
  • Involves some serious work or logistics to make happen
  • Beyond the merely ordinary
  • A transcendent or life changing experience
  • Something one can reasonably aspire to in an ordinary human lifetime
  • Is unlikely (or impossible) to be achieved more than once or twice in a lifetime

What a Bucket list item is NOT:

  • Routine, commonplace and inevitable events
  • Events that occur at random, or which one has no control over
  • Beyond the physical bounds of the universe
  • Things which are nearly impossible in an ordinary human lifetime
  • Things obtained with money alone

Many of the things that doubtless appear on other people’s Bucket Lists simply do not meet the our standards. For example, as a young man I wished desperately to witness the Red Sox win the World Series just once in my lifetime. And by the grace of God and Edgar Renteria, it has come to pass not once but TWICE already in my lifetime.

But that’s not really a Bucket List item by the way I measure such things now, because I didn’t DO anything. The Red Sox did all the work; all I did was watch them do it, and I suppose you could say that participation of a sort. But to me, it’s more of a random event that happened, which I had no control of. I was a part of it, in a way, but it wasn’t something personal to myself. It simply doesn’t meet our definition of a Bucket List item.

No small number of Bucket Lists include this place. By Maros M r a z (Maros) – Own work

On the other hand, I once worked with a man whose singular ambition was to appear as a contestant on the Price is Right. After about twenty tries he finally got his wish. It might not seem like much, but this is a perfectly valid Bucket List item. It’s unique, outside the ordinary, personal, only comes about as the result of a sizeable investment of time and effort, and cannot easily be duplicated in a single lifetime. It may not be your Bucket List item or mine, but it qualifies.

Bucket List items should be confined to things which are achievable within an ordinary human lifetime. Otherwise, it ceases to be a concrete set of aspirations and dissolves into whim and fancy…in effect, a Pie in the Sky List. For example, wishing to fly like superman is impossible unless you were born far from a yellow sun, so that can’t be a Bucket List item. You might argue that standing on the surface of Mars is possible, and I would agree that it isn’t entirely impossible, but it is VERY unlikely to happen to you unless you are already a trained astronaut. Which I assume most of you aren’t. And if you are, get back in the simulator, Mars ain’t gonna bring itself here.

We believe strongly that Bucket List items be more than just things which can be purchased by money alone. If this were not the case, then everything would boil down to accumulating a pile of money, whereby everything there is to have in life is automatically achieved. I know a lot of people subscribe to this belief, but we most certainly do not. Being rich CAN allow you to do amazing things (example…Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Yvon Chounaird.) But only if you have the will and imagination to make it happen. Money, like time, is just an enabler. For every Elon Musk, there’s a hundred others with pockets equally deep who never amount to a thing in this life.

Fitz Roy Chalten Argentina Todor Bozhinov 2013.jpg
Maybe next year’s Bucket List Item.  By own work (Todor Bozhinov) – Own work

Sylvia and I currently have sixteen items on our hiking Bucket List. Some are readily achievable…others, maybe less so, but none are irrational. We do not realistically expect to attempt them all, much less complete them all. Though I think we will do most, and maybe even a few that aren’t on this list. After all, the list is only limited by the constraints of our will to make it so, and the ability of our body to prove equal to our will. My experience is that a strong will can move a weak body much further than the reverse.

The Bucket List is not etched upon a stone tablet…it’s ours to do with as we chose. It may be that as we go on, we will decide to add or subtract from it. After all, it’s not meant to be the final list. It’s meant to be the list we continue to operate from until the final act is written.

Ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things. That is the true message of the Bucket List. I for one do not believe it is really all that important that the list be completed; rather, it is important that the list simply exist, that we have goals and ambitions that exceed the ordinary. We are as individuals the sum of our experiences, and so we should set the bar in life as high as possible, and not worry over much about what comes after. What matters after the Bucket gets kicked is anyone’s guess.

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(A special note of thanks to my wife who captured the actions shots of me kicking the object shown above. I asked her to make me look “Completely mentally unhinged, like an out of control maniac” and as is obvious the quality of her work is beyond question.)

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