When it’s August and a parent is seven weeks into summer vacation, she will admittedly look for any opportunity to escape reality for few moments.
This is how I, perhaps unfortunately, recently found myself in a local book store, flipping through the pages of a book filled with enlightening ideas on enriching one’s life.
One of the suggestions was to make a list––a list of 109 things you’d like to be, do or have. Much like the infamous “bucket list,” it’s meant to provide you with a laundry list of goals to achieve before you do, indeed, kick the proverbial bucket.
At first, this seemed like a rather clever (and entertaining) idea. And in fact, when I ventured out of town with my children on a short vacation days later, I found myself with pen and paper in hand one evening as I lounged around with time to relax—contemplating my list.
Happily, my “things you want to have” portion of the list was brief—not because I have so many things, but because I’ve learned that owning too many things can often bring more suffering than joy. That’s not to say I didn’t list my dream home, car, and fantasy wardrobe—I don’t profess to be a monk.
And “things I’d like to be?” Well, that was rather simple—all I had to do was dig into my ever evolving cache’ of career dreams. Nothing difficult about that.
Then I got to “things I’d like to do,” and my task became decidedly more arduous.
What did I want to do in the next 50 years? (I plan on living a long time, clearly.)
Climb Mount Everest? Swim with sea turtles? Learn to knit my own thermal underwear?
Did I want to perform at the opening of the Olympics, like Paul McCartney? Or would the simple act of singing, “Let it Be” at a karaoke bar in Manhattan after a couple of glasses of cabernet enable me to die with no regrets?
An avalanche of ideas fluttered through my brain. Sushi in Japan? Sex with Anthony Bourdain? Kissing Johnny Depp? Space travel? Lunch with David Sedaris?
Would merely brushing up on my German instead of learning French feel like a cop-out in retrospect as I took my last breath?
Do I want to ski in the Swiss Alps? Make my own pickled cabbage? Do a one hundred mile bike ride? Dance with penguins in the Antarctic? Sponsor a farm animal in a third world country? Get a belly button piercing?
Suddenly, what began as an intoxicating exercise in creating the ultimate “to do” list became overwhelming. What about all of the things that I’d already “had, been and done?” Didn’t those count? Were you allowed to include things you’d done and then immediately cross them off? Was there a “retroactive” clause? Or was that cheating?
Had I started my list two decades ago, would I not have had a better chance at success? I got competitive and wondered, were other people’s lists more exciting?
I began to feel lightheaded.
And then, something wonderful happened: I realized that although there is nothing inherently wrong with the list of 109 things—I neither want nor need one. I mean, theoretically, I could be on my deathbed, look at my list, see by the missing black check marks that I’d obviously forgotten to take in a foster child—or grow my own rhubarb—and then what? I’d be trotting off into the afterlife feeling like a failure?
No thank you.
And then I thought of my late husband. I mean, how would Drew have felt had he excitedly scribbled down his list on his 40th birthday, only to have been informed shortly thereafter that he probably had a mere year or two to cross off all of those “to do” items?
I imagine he would have been quite despondent. And really, when you’re terminally ill, you don’t need anything else to depress you.
So I say, skip the lists. We make too many lists already. And although having goals can obviously be a positive thing, too many of us get caught up in living a goal-driven life, and in the process, fail to enjoy the moment. And the rhubarb.
No Sugar Added is Cape Elizabeth resident Sandi Amorello’s biweekly take on life, love, death, dating and single parenting. Get more of Sandi at irreverentwidow.com or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.