My Bucket List is dead, and I was the one who killed it.
I didn’t mean to do it…it just sort of happened.
I was reviewing what went well this year and what didn’t while on a personal retreat a few days before Thanksgiving. As usual, the inventory of highlights was way longer. It contained projects we completed, trips we took, improvements we made to the house, and accomplishments our kids achieved. Many were planned, but a significant number of the entries were unplanned opportunities and unexpected blessings.
If you think about it, that’s how much of life is.
Many of our biggest blessings and favorite memories are unplanned. When I decided to go Christmas caroling thirty years ago, even though I am a terrible singer, it was because I had a plan to win over a girl I had been chasing. Instead, I met a different one who eventually became my wife.
I met my two best friends in college. A college I went to primarily because in high school I went to an art camp there that my art teacher suggested I apply for.
And we certainly weren’t planning to move to Sheboygan and buy our dream home when the pandemic was ramping up in early 2020.
Anyway, later on in my retreat, I was inspired to take a look at my Bucket List. I checked things off, re-worded a few entries, and added some new ones, finishing with an unoriginal sum of 101 items. Settling into bed, I thumbed through “Stillness Is The Key” by Ryan Holiday and reviewed a few chapters that caught my eye. I came across a verse by English poet and theologian Thomas Traherne, who said, “To prize blessings and not have them is to be in hell.”
It struck me as an apt description of a Bucket List: a list of blessings I prize but do not have.
Holiday even called it out by name: “The creep of more, more, more is like a hydra. Satisfy one — lop it off the bucket list — and two more grow in its place.”
It was true. I am happy to have accomplished many things on my list, but I’m regularly adding new ones to it.
Then I took a critical look at the list I’d just spent a hour updating. Honestly, all of the items are cool, but if I get hit my a bus next week, I’m not going to be devastated that I never got a chance to see Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
And yet, it IS on the list, the very existence of which creates a subconscious and not-so-subtle message that my life is still somewhat lacking. Blessings I prize but do not have.
Traherne also said, “To have blessings and to prize them is to be in Heaven.”
I realized that among my collection of blessings from the previous year, no less than twenty-five could have been exciting Bucket List entries. For example, “Catch a foul ball at Wrigley Field” was not on mine, but it did happen last year, and it is exactly the kind of thing that would make a great Bucket List entry—if it were something I could somehow orchestrate.
“Murder” might be too strong a word to describe what I did to my Bucket List. But I definitely retired it, replacing it with a Blessings List. It’s still has the classic “bucket list” verbiage, except it’s written in the past tense. “Visit Yellowstone National Park with my family” is instead “VisitedYellowstone National Park with my family.” “See Paul McCartney in concert” is now “Saw Paul McCartney in concert.”
It’s populated by many of the things Kim and I have recorded in our annual review over the past two-plus decades; an awesome collection of milestones, trips, experiences, and once-in-a-lifetime moments.
Some of which were actually planned ahead of time.
It’s already ten times bigger than my Bucket List and I look forward to adding to it every year until I kick that proverbial pail. I love that it’s a living reminder of blessings I’ve been given that I wasn’t creative, clairvoyant, or presumptuous enough to have imagined.
Please know this: If you have a Bucket List, I wish you well and don’t want to discourage you in the least. It is a wonderful tool that can help you strive for greatness and make the most of this precious gift of life. Mine definitely served me well.
Maybe just keep this reminder handy:
To have blessings and to prize them is to be in Heaven.