On being … bucket list-less

By Ingrid Sapona

There was a sad/uplifting story in the paper the other day about a 64-year-old woman who last fall received the heart of a 21-year-old nursing student who was killed in an accident. After her parents donated her organs, among her things they found a bucket list she had written. It seems it was a fairly long list (especially for a 21-year-old) and, unbelievably, one of the items on it was that she wanted to save a life. Well, her organs ended up saving more than one life.

As I mentioned, the article was really about the woman who received the heart. It turns out she’s a retired nurse and she’s had a bucket list of her own that she’s been working on over the years. Before receiving the heart she had already accomplished many of the things on her list and, with the strength of the new heart, she’s been able to continue crossing items off her list. 

But the story doesn’t end there. Somehow the donor’s parents met the retired nurse and learned she too has a bucket list. Ironically, when they compared lists, they realized many of the items were on both lists. As a tribute to the donor, the retired nurse has decided to tackle the donor’s list, as well as her own.

The story was very moving, for sure. But, when I finished reading it, I had the same unsettled feeling I always do when the topic of bucket lists comes up. Though you always hear wonderful stories of adventures people have had ticking things off their list, having one has never appealed to me. I’m sure part of what puts me off about bucket lists is the idea of death as a motivator. I know that’s a pretty negative way of looking at it, but that’s how I see it.

In wrestling with my discomfort at the thought of having a bucket list, I wondered whether by not having one, I’m missing out on. To analyze this, I started reflecting on adventures and experiences I’ve enjoyed that some might figure would be on a bucket list, if I were to have one. A number of different experiences came to mind, but I’ll only mention a few.

The first I thought of was an experience I had just a couple weeks ago at a glassblowing workshop a friend and I went to. The whole thing came about when my friend came across a coupon for the workshop and asked if I’d be interested in going with her. I think she knew that glasswork is one of my favourite types of art and so I don’t think she was surprised when I immediately said sure!

The seminar was really neat – unlike any other craft I’ve ever tried. I’m really glad she heard about it and asked me to join her. But, in thinking about whether the seminar’s the type of thing I’d put on a bucket list (if I had one), the short answer is no. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it gave me an even greater appreciation for something I already love (glasswork), but it’s not an experience I would have ever thought to look for. It was, however, an opportunity I recognized as worth taking when it came up.

The second example came to mind thanks to a novel I’m reading about a lighthouse keeper in Australia in the early 1900s. I’ve always been fascinated by lighthouses. I find them majestic and oddly romantic. The story immediately reminded me of a unique experience I had in Australia years ago when I visited a friend who was on sabbatical there. She and her husband had travelled around a fair bit before I visited them and they found a B&B in a former lighthouse keeper’s cottage. She asked me if it was the type of thing I’d be interested in. With no hesitation, I said yes! It was fantastic. The cottage was quaint and the setting – a remote ledge where earth meets ocean – was spectacular.

In thinking about that experience, I again considered whether it would be on my bucket list. Objectively, I could see how you’d think it would be. But the thing is, it wasn’t an experience I sought out, which seems to me to be a hallmark of a bucket list item. In contrast, the girlfriend who found the lighthouse B&B recently mentioned that she was doing some research on-line trying to find architecturally interesting or unusual places to stay – like treehouses and caves. I’m guessing she and her husband have a bucket list!

Another example of a once-in-a-lifetime experience I had that one would certainly think is bucket list-worthy was a three-day winter adventure near Algonquin Park. A friend of mine had been on the trip and it sounded so fun, I got the name of the outfitter and booked myself in for the following winter. It was a truly memorable trip, the highlights of which were guiding a sled pulled by six excited huskies and our mountain-man tour leader showing us how to build a fire in the snow and then setting up a reflector oven on which he baked us chocolate chip cookies! 

Each of these experiences have enriched my life and left me with wonderful memories, but I didn’t really seek any of them out. Instead, they kind of came to me. The way I see it, as long as you keep your eyes and ears out for interesting things and you’re game to say yes when opportunities arise, no bucket list is required…

© 2014 Ingrid Sapona


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