Friday, November 12, 2010

The Unbucket List

The Unbucket List
I attended a death conference recently at Akron Children’s Hospital. I decided to go because after an absence of many months death had come back to the church that I serve. After performing too many funerals in too few weeks, I wanted an opportunity to reflect on what I was doing before I had to sit down and compose yet another eulogy. It wasn’t called a death conference, of course, but instead was called “Befriending the Dying on Their Sacred Journey.” I was there with palliative care nurses, doctors, social workers, and a few clergy. You might think that the event would have been depressing or morbid, but instead it was uplifting and life-affirming. You can’t imagine how upbeat that hospice care workers can be.
The main presenter was a nun, Sister Mary Assumpta, and you know how much fun nuns can be. She wore the traditional habit of her order, and I kept thinking that a strong wind would lift her up into the air like the Flying Nun (I know it’s a reference showing my age, but deal with it). It sounds like a clichĂ© to say that her remarks were deep and profound, but they were for me. She understands dying and living in a way that I hope to do so someday. I have thought of her comments and other parts of that conference many times in the past days. And I am sure that I will think of them tomorrow when I attend yet one more funeral – for the death of our longtime neighbor Joe Kelley.
One of the things that Sister Mary counseled all of us to do – those of us who know we will die someday and those of us still in denial – was to put together a Bucket List of things we want to do before we die to help us plan for and prioritize the days that we do have. One of the things on my list was to see a tearjerker movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman so that’s one thing that I can cross off.
Now I am not against making a Bucket List, but my thoughts on it are similar to those of Jonathon Beverly, Editor-in-Chief of Running Times magazine. Beverly wrote in a recent issue: “Many life-best experiences lack the obvious pizzazz to make a bucket list. If we focus too much on experiences ‘before we die’ we may miss the true joys of the days of that life.” Bluto Blutarsky once said something like this: “This can be the best day of your life.” Isn’t it true that sometimes the greatest experiences we have are not those we planned for or prepared for but were those we were open to when they came along? They would not have appeared on our list alongside things like climb Mt. Everest, run the Boston Marathon, attend a victory parade for the Super Bowl champion Cleveland Browns, hear Jim Bane preach, and so on, but we wouldn’t have missed them for the world.
If you had asked me to compose a Bucket List at the age of 18 or 21 or even 25, becoming a father would not have appeared on that list. I wasn’t against it, but I would not have thought that it would have been something that I had to do before my life was complete. I doubt that becoming a father would appear on the Bucket List of very many men, yet I cannot imagine living my life without the incredible experiences (and even the mundane days) of fatherhood. I’ll take being a husband and a father over any other thing that I could ever list on things I had to do before I died.
I have lost a lot of weight in the past year, and a number of people in our church have expressed concern about my health. One man asked me last week for the name of my doctor so that he would make sure never to be his patient since my weight loss obviously indicates substandard medical care. And the truth is, of course, that every day I get that much closer to the ultimate demise and failure of my body. But then so does everyone else. Even you.
If you have made a Bucket List and are diligently pursuing everything on it, then I salute you. But I would suggest composing an additional list which I am calling the Unbucket List. The Unbucket List would be those things that you want to make sure that you never do (or never do again) because they take up too much of the remaining hours that you have. For example, your Unbucket List might have things on it like this: Thinking about Sara Palin, Watching political commercials, Waiting in line for more than 15 minutes, Being angry about waiting in line for more than 15 minutes, Holding a grudge, Being held captive by guilt, Worrying about what anyone else thinks of you, Trying to earn God’s love which is already guaranteed, and so on. If we spend too much of our time on those kinds of things, we’ll never have a moment for the stuff that really counts, even those surprisingly deep events that occur when we least expect it.
What is on your Unbucket List?


  1. Even me.

    I just returned to the U.S. from Paris, France. Everyone asking me how my trip was. What was my favorite thing?

    My real answer, is just--walking around, people watching, sitting in a cafe, taking it all in--this was truly the best part of my journey. You cannot plan this kind of thing. Had I been consumed with un-bucket list things--like worrying about details, nonsense--I would have completely missed these unbelievably enriching moments. Living--Oh, it can be breathtaking.

    Thank you for this post!

  2. great post jim. i don't know what is on my bucket list, but my unbucket list includes not worrying about it too much