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