Before I die, I want to . . . .
How would you finish that sentence? I know how I wouldn’t.
Wild-eyed risk-taker and adventurer I’m not. Never have I wanted to jump from an airplane, become a human bungee, climb Mt Everest (there aren’t any elk or trout that high), or swim with sharks. Yet those are the types of activities populating many bucket lists.
That’s why I’ve not given much thought to making, much less fulfilling, my own.
Chang’s public, artistic bucket list gave me pause. What do I absolutely need to do before I die? Tough question. But as I thought about it, I realized I’ve checked a few things off of an unspoken bucket list. Not all fun or positive.
So, with apologies and in no particular order here’s
My Bucket List
I’ve . . .
Flown in a helicopter and gotten vertigo
Camped out in the snow, several times
Dropped out of high school–not an aspiration but an act of desperation
Joined the U.S. Navy
Earned Masters and Doctoral degrees
Almost drowned while snorkeling off the wild shark inhabited side of an island in Subic Bay, Philippines
Snorkeled in Belize without almost drowning
Lived for a summer near Telluride in a wheelless sheepherder’s wagon called “The Lunch Box”
Been thrown in the brig (that’s a Navy jail)
Had several careers: Carpenter, sailor, miner, salesman, barista, and pastor
Married a beautiful red-head
Raised three awesome children (see above)
Started a church
Become a grandfather
Outlived my father
Watched the sunrise from atop Haleakala Volcano on Maui
Floated in the Dead Sea
Trembled at a loaded pistol pointed at my face
Canoed up the rapids of the Bumbungan River to Pagsanjan Falls in the Philippines
Published a short story in Bugle Magazine
Visited Israel and survived
Been robbed and given a dozen parking tickets in Vancouver, BC
Jumped from a towering rock into Lake Atitlan in Guatemala
Almost been arrested performing a baptism at a public lake
Visited a cloud forest in Costa Rica
Gotten stuck half way down the rock face rappelling
Built houses for people in need in Mexico and Costa Rica
Backpacked to Cathedral Lake at 11,000 ft
Been fired, a couple of times
Rafted the Green River to the confluence of the Colorado
Also Brown’s Canyon on the Arkansas River
Spoken to a crowd of 8,000 people
Taken a bull elk
Skinny dipped, no picture, thank, God
Done several illegal things I’m not proud of
At age 55 mountainbiked the Colorado Trail for 25 miles
Invented the zip line, sort of
Finished a first draft of my novel
Snowmobiled 100 miles in Yellowstone National Park
Broken the same leg three times
Survived my crazy family of origin and my own insanity, thank, God–literally
A Different Kind of Bucket List
My bucket list surprised me. But I must confess many of those things happened to me; I did not happen to them. I’m glad for them anyway–even some of the hair-brained ones–because I learned from them and through all experienced God’s redemption. Maybe even an unintentional bucket list counts.
Still that question, “Before I die, I want to . . .” hangs there. It’s haunting.
Death is no abstract concept for me. One summer evening in 1966 my dad dropped us off at my older sister’s house. The next time we saw him he was in a coffin. Both of my parents are gone now, and my wife’s parents too, and several beloved friends. My brother-in-law passed away on my birthday this year.
Being a pastor, I’ve had the terrible honor of spending time with many people in their last stages of life, even until their final breath. I’ve performed too many funerals: babies, children, teens, mothers, fathers, those who lived well and those who did not.
Facing death this way either cauterizes your heart or opens it to what really counts in life. Or both.
A One Item Bucket List
But what are the regrets of those of us left here? What counts in life? What must we do before we die?
I can only speak for myself.
If I’m honest, though I yearn to publish my novel–and write more–and take an elk with a bow and arrow, and teach my grandkids to love God and the outdoors, and retire, and read hundreds more books, and travel with my wife, and meet Leif Enger, the top item on my bucket list is. . .
Saying what needs to be said to those I love. Daily. Repeatedly. In case they don’t hear or mishear.
My father died from a heart attack. I didn’t get to say goodbye. Nor he. I’ve regretted that every waking day since. Many tough years later, my mother died of emphysema. We talked for hours before she passed, saying everything needed and more. What peace those times with her brought then and now. Sometimes I dream of talking to Jim, my father-in-law, one last time. “You were a second father to me and taught me how to be a man. Thank you,” I say to him in my dream as he casts his blue eyes down because he was uncomfortable with emotion. Today I’d say it even if it made him squirm.
But it’s hard. I stood before Candy Chang’s board and chickened out. Instead of writing “Before I die I want to ‘say what needs to be said to those I love,’” I wrote “write a novel.”
I’m going to go back downtown and change my answer.