I have never made nor contemplated making a bucket list. I have absolutely nothing against making one, and I love to hear about other folks’ items on their bucket lists. I find them incredibly revelatory and hopeful. And of course, like everyone, I play the game of “someday, I would like to….” or “before I die, I want to….”. When a person’s dreams die, they aren’t just old, they are dead, no matter if a physical body indicates otherwise. As The Bard says, “we are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep” – all too soon that sleep comes, so have at it with those Bucket Lists while ye may!
So, when I kick it, you won’t find a hidden Bucket List among my many pieces of revelatory, self-incriminating written logs. Then yesterday, something happened; and though I never went in search of greatness from a list of To Do’s Before Doom’s Day, a Bucket List item was thrust upon me. Shakespeare once more, said it first: “Some are born with Bucket Lists, some achieve their Bucket Lists, and some have Bucket Lists thrust upon them.”
I am visiting the beautiful (there is just no other word for the topography here) State of North Carolina where one of my darling daughters works and lives with my grand-furbies, Artemis and Apollo. Apollo is up and awake with me right now, being the young whippersnapper that he is, and he is bouncing all over the house waiting for his mistress to get up and feed him. I am forbidden to feed him, and if he bites my finger in hunger or starts chewing on the cord of my laptop, I am supposed to somehow catch him and shove him in his little time-out cage until said darling daughter arises to give him his breakfast. It’s hard being a Grand-meow who can’t spoil her dear grand-furby, but, the wrath of an adult child is nothing to mess around with I have found, being four adult-children down at the count. I love them more than my own life, but I miss them when they were little tykes and all I had to do was hold them tight when they were upset or kiss them when they were sad or laugh along with them at some silly thing that never made sense in hindsight but was just a way to joy in the moment. Now I am a helpless old thing against the tides and times that they have inherited from me personally and from my generation in general and from all the good and bad we try to control in the world and in ourselves with various degrees of success and failure. May the sins of my children’s mother not be carried on to the third and fourth generation*, but may I be forgiven the consequences of my mea culpas in their lovely, much-loved lives and futures.
My children all have Bucket Lists. They don’t share a lot of the items with me and that is as it should be. Bucket Lists should not be made into common currency or YouTubes, Tik-Toks or even movies with famous actors filling in for real people. Bucket lists should have a few sharable items: I would like to visit New Zealand. I would like to finish a Marathon. Stuff like that. But mostly Bucket Lists should be those hidden, cherished, held-close desires of the heart that let us dream of what might be in a perfect world, personal and public. They should be full of items that let us imagine being something other than what we are today, with a hope and prayer of doing at least some of those things. Most importantly, Bucket List dreams should be about being all that we imagine the Human Being is capable of doing and being, whatever that might mean to me, or you, or my child, or your friend. And the lovely thing about a Bucket List is mine doesn’t have to be at all like yours to be valid and important. Bucket Lists just might be the most uncompromised by cultural, national, or religious symbol of the most personal / communal Dream-Worlds of Endless Life Possibilities ideas in existence. I mean, isn’t Heaven really, just another word for Bucket List? Isn’t Heaven is also just another symbol for that endless eternal ability to be and do everything that the human divine soul was created to be and do? Isn’t the ultimate Bucket List really just another form of desiring a glorious, godly, divine, and endlessly available and possibility-enhanced Eternal Life?
A Bucket List is not just about creating an amazing future though, as I found yesterday. It is also about our deepest selves’ broken pieces being a little bit patched up; our short-circuits reconnected. The items on a list about things we want to do before we kick the bucket, reveal what got broken, or subverted, or short-circuited or stopped just that little bit short of realization. A Bucket List is not just about what may happen but what should have happened. We like to imagine a better future when we can’t deal with the bad stuff in the past or the present, (another reason so many religions got the underprivileged, non-wielding Bucket List folks, like slaves or minorities, living for Heaven, instead of focusing on what could be done about the present problems in their lives). Thinking about the fact that we are still alive enough to have hopes, dreams and desires – big ones, like the ones on a Bucket List – return us to the possibilities we imagined when we were children; when we still had dreams, when as children we envisioned an eternal future without any limitations. Our Bucket Lists are about finally going skydiving, because we dreamt of flying like Peter Pan, when we were children; or we want to check off a safari, and riding an elephant, because we imagined as children that we were wild animals roaming the jungles. When we were young, we romped together in our imagined worlds of play and in our freedom from soul-sucking jobs, or relationships that were hard, or physical ailments that meant we were unable to walk or move without pain, let alone check off our list the desire to surf Maui. Bucket Lists return us to not just hope for the future, or a belief we can fix something in the past, but also to at least for one minute, a joy in the fact, that “where there is life now, there is hope”. Bucket Lists are really about suddenly being present to ourselves as valuable, worth-while, dreaming, hoping, believing beings.
Yesterday my daughter and husband and I took a ferry to an island in North Carolina with a lighthouse. Seeing lighthouses is literally on my husband’s Bucket List, and we were able to check that off his personal list, with the help of his beloved daughter, by seeing two of the beautiful lighthouses that still operate today. Lighthouses were created to keep sailors and ships safe from the world’s dangerous waters and unforeseen shoals. Maybe Bucket Lists do the same for people.
On our way to the island yesterday, we passed Shackelford Banks. And as our captain, slowly passed by the banks, there they were — my eyes are tearing up as I write this, and remember it now– just as yesterday without anticipation, I found myself silently crying as I saw something that I immediately knew had been on my Bucket List without my ever understanding it was there. There in front of me were three wild Shackelford ponies, one a foal still gangly and unsure in the shallows.
When I was about eight years old, and my parents were a mess and going through a divorce that they never told their four kids about, and at a time I didn’t realize how what another relative was doing to me wasn’t appropriate, and my childhood seemed to be getting snatched away from me but I didn’t know it, my father, gave me a book called “Misty of Chincoteague”. It’s a famous children’s book by Marguerite Henry. You should read it if you still have a bit of child in your heart, or at least get it for a child you know and love. Later, when my dad let me choose a pinto pony for my own, he let me call it “Misty”. After a few years of my broken family being in a strange existence that isn’t about Bucket Lists at all, my mom remarried and moved us away and I rarely saw my dad and never saw Misty again. I guess she must have died, along with my own childhood.
Yesterday I saw those wild ponies, not on the Chincoteague of my youthful book-inspired dreams, but on Shackelford Island, while I sat next to the dreams I never knew I had – a husband of thirty-three years and one of my own dear, beloved children, grown to adulthood with her own shared and private dreams and Bucket List items. And the little girl I was, Janie Karen, came rushing up to meet me in the sight of those horses, and I realized: “I made it. I made it here to see this – to see them – to see Misty—after all these years. I did it. I made the dreams I never knew I had come true.”
And I checked off an item from the Bucket List I have never made:
#1: I will keep my childlike faith. I will continue to imagine and dream and look for the wild ponies in life, where ever they may appear.
“And it shall come to pass, that your young ones shall be divinely inspired; and your old ones shall dream dreams; and all will have the ability to plan the future with imagination and wisdom.” **
Today begins Rosh Hashanah, and this poem was inspired albeit poorly done, in reverence and appreciation for the profound teachings of Abraham Joshua Heschel. Though he would point out that I have read merely his books, Rabbi Heschel, a man of faith for all religions, nations, and peoples, through his books of profound thoughts and faith has taught me more than I can begin to express in my own small words of gratitude. Shalom to you and yours — Jane
A long, long time ago and only yesterday, the materials for making my little life’s boat, were gathered in secret by the DNA of my Scottish, Irish, American Indian ancestors. But the real craft, the trued and tried boat itself, was crafted by the Great Crafter in the secrets that stretch back to the Beginning and stretch forward to the End of Time which never is. Like all carrying agents, large and small, puny and mighty, all that sail on this Ocean we call Life, or The World, my boat is unique and also it is exactly like every other little boat as well. My little boat, so small compared to others, yet just as specially made, will sail, in spurts and starts, or travel full-steam ahead, and go and go until the boat is moored someday as it was meant to be in the Eternal or until it crashes on the rocky shores of Ego or Despair. This is the truth about all sailing crafts, though many never know it because we either tie our boats up on shore, or we create a false shore in the water. But all true Truths try to teach us that our boats were made for motion in the ocean.
I am a little sailboat, who has long had the need for The Wind in my sails. I am lucky that quite early, I was taught what sails are for and what they are not for. I was as unlucky as many when my sails were brutally torn or holes were punched in the hull, the very soul of my ship. But I was not as unlucky as many, and I have managed. So, I have rebuilt my little boat many times with the help of others and that thing that true sailors call luck and that saints call grace. I have kept my faith in The Wind, which no one can control, and yet it exists. I have often sailed in the right direction with the North Star and Morning Star as guides. I have often sailed in the wrong direction and lost my way. Mostly though, I regret to confess, I have mistaken a mirage of my safety while moored to the dock for what I was meant to live as life on a boat.
There are many great ships that have sailed The Ocean, and sail it still, mighty and amazing in their superiority to most of our little folks’ small crafts. There are great ships with names like Caesar, or Pharaoh, or Titan of Industry, and many of these boats become enormous, powerfully engine-ed ships, making their way through The Ocean without need of The Wind, barely feeling the waves, never fearing the storms, and barely knowing they are moving at all, more like stagnant cities in the water than moving vessels. They put aside their sails and have no more need of The Wind. They take what they need from the Lands they conquer and leave behind. They take oil and slaves and buy more life vests than they could ever use; they sail their gigantic boats, boats that could house whole nations but only have enough room for one’s self. These have stopped being boats at all, and we look at those ships and we all want to have one of those ships, too. We want to be safe and saved and unafraid with everything we will ever need forever and ever, amen. And we look at our little tiny battered, torn-sailed little boats and we hate them and we hate us and we want to be them, the big safe ships. We look at the great steady cruisers and we long to have no need of The Wind; and we yearn to be in the Ocean but to control the way the Ocean takes us, like the great shipbuilders seem to do. And we forget that we are all created to be working sailors, not passengers. And we ignore what our heart tries to tell us, that even those with the biggest ships, will one day too find that The Ocean is bigger than they are. Perhaps when The Wind has wrecked the big ships upon the shoals of shallowness, or the sandbars of Eternal Truths, they too will long to once more sail a little boat.
Perhaps we will all, large and small, no matter how safe or how broken we think our boats are, someday find that The Ocean sends us an unlooked for buoy or a suddenly appearing piece of the Mast’s Wood; and we will each have one more chance to leave shore, and grab on to what The Ocean provides, and we will once more, like children, relearn a love of sending our little crafts out into The Ocean.
My boat’s sails have been tattered and torn so many times. I was not born a good sailor, and perhaps that has saved me. I have had to rely on The Wind’s benevolent appearing and disappearing, on the Ocean’s grace in storms and dead calm. I have had to depend on the help of fellow travelers who sailed alongside me, sometimes just keeping me company in the loneliness of Ocean life, sometimes teaching me something vital about how to sail, sometimes showing me what not to do by their own foolish choices at sea, sometimes sharing a compass that helped me navigate. And sometimes there have been those fellow sailors who, with great love, have helped me pick up the pieces of my little boat that I had allowed to break apart when I hit some shoals, or had left to rot in dock. And every once in a while, there was no one to help me, but only Someone to whisper across the waves:
“Fear not. Be still. Have faith. And know what you think you do not know. Don’t look at the waves. Keep your eyes on Me.”
I would like to say that I have been sailing The Ocean for six decades now, but I have mostly left my little boat docked uselessly in port. I kept thinking I was safer on shore, tied up to the Pier, with those I thought were peers and I felt already the salvation of knowledge of the things I had read about on “How to Sail” without ever needing to do the things it takes to set sail. I could tell you how to sail, but I rarely have experienced the thrill and dangers of sailing. So, I have spent a lifetime mostly feeling I should be happy that I had a little boat but never really knowing the purpose of my boat or why life seemed mostly rudderless and my sails sagged depressedly, longing for A Wind I would never risk meeting head-on. I have mostly lived by peering out, rather than journeying out. I have stayed on shore with all the best charts and maps but rarely finding the courage to launch my craft again and again, failure after failure, frightening success after frightening success, prophetically, mysteriously, in weakness and in strength, in death first and then life, baptized again and again by misadventure and death at Sea, and by setting my course, going into the Deeps, into the Pontus, into the waves left by The Wake of He who first Crafted and Who crafted the Sailor in me.
Last night there was a Red Sky and so I awoke today hoping for a sailor’s delight. But this morning the sky is still red- Warning! Warning! This morning the Ocean is covered over by Heavens which are a shade of red, red the color of shed blood; blood like the blood from two huge hands mangled by the nails of working His Boat and sailing The Ocean like no One has ever sailed it before or since, though we who know are supposed to have tried. And I am afraid. And I am uncertain I even know which direction to go. And The Great Sailor and all those before me who have managed to sail in His Wake are calling me to set out, while the sirens of safety in the numbers docked on shore make more and more knots in the ropes that tie me down.
What will my story’s end be? People call that a legacy, but most of us just leave with an unfinished story. I will not be leaving a beautiful houseboat, or massive warship, or richly outfitted yacht behind for those who carry on in The Ocean, those few who sailed close enough to my little craft to say, “I knew her” “My boat sailed for a time with hers” “I saw her boat on the shore”. I will have no lasting control over what becomes of those who carry on my boat’s DNA or those who may have learned something about their own boats by the teachings I have done or failed to do on “How to Sail”. But one thing I am learning. If I leave my little boat safely moored to this shore; if I am tethered to the sandbars of cares and needs and self and greeds; if I keep setting sail only to turn back again to dock my fears and doubts and insecurities and failings, instead of facing them head on, sailing into The Wind; if I do not daily, moment by moment, cure and polish and then test the seaworthiness of my little boat, I will never actually be in the boat. I will spend my Time, looking at my boat from outside of it. I will spend my Life, looking at my Life, from outside of it. If do not let the Winds fill its sails, my boat will never be what it was crafted to be. If I don’t let The Wind fill me, I will never be what I was Crafted to Truly Be.
A boat that is moored to the cares of the shore, can’t leave a wake. A boat leaves a wake when it is moving through The Ocean. We are each uniquely created by The Great Ship-Crafter to live life in the Ocean. We are given the ability to calm the waves and quell the storms, if we only have enough faith to start sailing, and once we start, to not look back at the sirens, and not look ahead at things that are mere mirages, but to point our little boats Due North, and let The Wind sail us towards what we were meant to call “Home”. Because if you are sailing The Ocean, one day you will wake up and realize that all along, you have been carrying your true home with you. Your little life’s boat has always been your Home.
Despite what any of us try to tell ourselves, none of us has ever seen the Far Shore from this shore. It is only when we are in The Ocean, that we understand that we were neither created to stay safely on this shore, nor were we created to try to reach the other Shore. We were created to row as hard as we need, to crew alongside those who sail within our latitudes and longitudes, to drift when we can’t feel The Wind and wait for Her to fill us again, to float and enjoy the beauty that is above us, below us, and all around us as we travel; to navigate with both honest fear and wise courage, and above all to be at Home when we Move and keep Moving within in and upon The Great Ocean.
What will I leave in the wake of my life? I pray that the flotsam and jetsam of my poorer decisions and weaknesses in sailing, will be carried away by The Great Ocean’s grace. I pray that my wake will leave a clearer sense of direction for those who sail behind me. I pray that there will be a small wake from my life’s little boat; a wake that leads others Due North, a wake that I leave when my boat is no longer seen by any but those on the Far Shore. I pray that above all, my wake will send waves to both near and far shores that swoosh with something that sounds faintly like something The Ocean would breathe, something like a person who had dipped her hands into the water and made small little circles of waves, something that sounds like what water would sound like if it were breathing in and out, ebbing and flowing. I hope that I will set sail enough times that my life-boat will leave a small little wake that sends waves gently lapping towards the world’s shores, and the children’s little life boats; a sound of waves in my wake that whispers something like this:
Shhhheeeeeee loooooved. Sheeeeeee whoosshhhh, llllllloved whiiiisssssh. She loved. She loved. She loves. She loves. Love….. Love……Love……..