Recently, while engaged in the quaint, old-fashioned practice of thumbing through a magazine, I was stopped by a question posed on the masthead page to members of the editorial and publishing staff:
“What bucket-list item do you plan to accomplish in 2022?”
Responses varied from the predictable trips (“Going on my African safari experience!”) to home goals (“Adding more drought-tolerant plants to my garden.”) to the down-to-earth (“I’ve got two high-school juniors, so next year it’s all about … survival.”). But one answer made me want to reach through the page and give Jennifer from the Midwest Accounts Department a big hug of solidarity:
“Putting together my bucket list!” she pledged. Her exclamation exuded enthusiasm, but I also picked up a slight whiff of panic.
I can relate, Jennifer.
I hate having a schedule and I have never had a plan. Things happen, opportunities arise. Or sometimes they don’t, and I’m totally OK with it. As each chapter of life unfolds, I pretty much practice the Choose Your Own Adventure method and dive into the next chapter. I know it would make most of my loved ones feel better if I pinned myself down a little more, but I’ve made peace with the fact that my comfort zone doesn’t have to match theirs.
Hence, other than a few quick items jotted into the notes app on my phone, I’ve never seriously attempted to compile a bucket list.
Not that I’m list-averse. Scattered around our house are purses, coat pockets, and stray notebooks holding my grocery lists, to-do lists, lists of books to read, lists of music to check out. They mesh together into a network of possibilities and tentative plans from which to pick and choose. They guide me to the end of each day with a sense of at least mild accomplishment, even if, like the other day, I do nothing more than listen to the new Hayes Carll album while baking a batch of bourbon chocolate chip cookies.
(Seriously, try tossing a few tablespoons of booze in your next batch of chocolate chip cookies. AMAZING. The album was good, too.)
Turning my gaze from the magazine to my aging left hand resting alongside, I considered the passage of time and wondered if I, too, ought to get busy on my own bucket list of cool stuff to do before it was too late.
In my estimation, though, I do cool stuff all the time. Even in the past year, crazy and unpredictable as it’s been, I’ve created some memorable bullet points to reminisce upon. The things I’ve done may not impress others, but they mean a lot to me – and when you aren’t checking things off a list, they don’t feel like a homework assignment.
I may have yet to fulfill my lifelong dream of road tripping the entire USA, but I had a blast hiking a piece of the Pacific Crest Trail with my family (OK, it was just an easy eight-mile stretch that goes past my brother’s house, but that’s not important now). My mom and I still have never taken a cruise together, but we harvested a slew of mother-daughter memories watching the fishing boats come and go from our beachfront balcony in Fort Bragg.
I made cookies with booze in them. I made new friends.
I spent a shocking amount of money on a personal development course (worth it).
I spatchcocked a turkey (not really worth it, except for a reason to use the word “spatchcock”).
On my walks, I’ve been listening to the insightful book, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” by Bronnie Ware. In her years as a caregiver to folks at the end of their lives, Bronnie observed that their most commonly expressed regret was the wish that they’d had the courage to live life on their own terms, not trying to satisfy the expectations of others. After my own years of struggles with people-pleasing tendencies, I’m now working hard to keep this regret at bay. I’ve always had the idea that I “should” make a bucket list, but why? Because I want to, or because a competitive, one-upping society has made me think I should?
The way I see it, my bucket list is making itself – all I have to do is keep an open mind and live life. Searching my past for things to regret, I can’t come up with much.
One last thing. If ever there was anything in my life I’d call a bucket-list item, it’s this: I was a monthly columnist for an award-winning newspaper – my first paid writing gig! This edition marks the end of an experience I’ll remember with fondness and gratitude.
Season’s greetings and a memorable (in a good way) 2022 to all.
You can email Amber Woodward Gravitt at firstname.lastname@example.org.