Despite my resolution for this month (February), to avoid thinking, saying or writing negative things, I can’t get a recent Editorial Notebook from the New York Times out of my head. The title is “Last Things First for Patients With Bucket Lists,” by Clyde Haberman. It begins:
If a new study is correct, more than 91 percent of us have a bucket list — things we wish to do before we die. This revelation is interesting on several levels, including a question of what that minority of nearly 9 percent is thinking. Surely those people are aware that the chance of their kicking the bucket is 100 percent. Are we to believe that nothing in their basket of wishes is unrealized?
See, I’m in that 9 percent. I don’t have—or need—a “basket of wishes,” and furthermore, I know exactly what I am thinking: that a writer who dismisses anyone’s choice not to have a “bucket list” probably needs to find a job a day job that’s more in line with his intellectual abilities.
The whole idea behind such a concept is that, somehow, “doing” is important. Well, I am 68 years old, and I am retired, and I don’t have to “do” anything. Which is fine with me. I do have plenty to do, but what is most important to me now is not doing, but being.
I had the ineffable pleasure this morning of just lying in bed, my body perfectly relaxed, with no desire to move a corpuscle, much less any major muscle group. I was totally blissed out just being warm and comfortable and having nothing pressing to do, nothing on my mind.
Being = bliss.
It’s also important to note that by “doing,” we all become complicit in further degrading the resources of Earth. People answering surveys about their bucket list, Haberman notes, list travel as their most common desire. But it’s not exactly carbon neutral to be jetting off to your eco-vacation on the Galapagos Islands or the Outer Hebrides. Yeah, I’ve done some traveling and I’d like to travel more. But balance that with ecological awareness; the drawbacks of traveling with a disability; general inertia; and having plenty of places to walk and interesting things to do, think, and read at home in Portland.
Aside from Venice, there isn’t any new place I’d particularly like to see* Besides, with age comes the realization that basically one can’t do everything one would want to do. Stepping back into being, rather than doing, isn’t a constriction of my life choices, it is a revelation of how wide my humanity is even when I am just occupying the same few meters of physical space day after day.
OK, so the point of the Times’s editorial notebook is that a recent study found that having in mind the things they’d like to do before dying seems to help terminal patients focus more and live longer. Bully for them. But I am really, really happy with my life. I don’t need a phantom list of things I may or may not be able to get around to. I live in the present; I’m filled with gratitude; I love my life, my pursuits, my creativity, my family, my friends.
“A man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” the poet Robert Browning wrote. My reach has caught up with my grasp; I have an intimation of heaven. I know what it’s for, and I am grateful.
*Well, actually I would like to revisit some of the places whose memories resonate with me. Yet one can never really go back…