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Bucket Lists

July 17, 2014 - John Stack
We all have bucket lists. These are those “things to do before we die” lists. The typical bucket list might be to see the Grand Canyon, visit the Sistine Chapel or even solve a Rubik’s Cube. There are even sites to help you decide what to put on your bucket list. But is this all healthy, or is it a symptom of our restless society?

The brother of a friend wrote a column about the “Bucket List driven life”. It did not take well to the concept of your typical bucket list. His concern was with the idea it seems many have to just check off an item on the list and move on. “Climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Check. What’s next?” Now, you might be saying “Wait John. I’d like to see the Eiffel Tower too!”. Well, I would like to see the Eiffel tower and climb up also. But, I’d also like to go to the top with my wife Kathy and see the sights of Paris from the top. I’d like to go with my wife to see The Louvre. To see the Arc De Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees. I’d like to walk the streets with Kathy. Eat great French food. Catch the Tour De France. On my deathbed, I don’t want to remember that I made it to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I want to remember the incredible time in Paris with my loved ones.

I said I wanted to catch some of the Tour De France. But, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as if I was with my buddies Jason and Phil. Years later we could all talk about the riot we had screaming for the riders and busting our lungs on a citizens race up Alpe D’Huez. Remembering the pain and the glory of summiting with my friends would be what I would want to remember.

But a bucket list seems more like a LIST. Check off and move on. But what do you put on the list? Everything you want to do before you die? But, short of unlimited time and money, most people could never finish an all-encompassing bucket list. Climb Everest? Run with the bulls in Pamplona? Backpack across Europe? Climb the pyramids at Machu Pichu? Learn a new language? Get another college degree? Learn to play guitar? I could do…some of these. But, putting them all on my bucket list, I would certainly come up wanting. Is that what the list would be for? I could come up with a list of 100 things I want to do. It would take millions of dollars and probably a hundred years.

There was a movie a few years back with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman titled “The Bucket List”. I loved the movie (Then again, these two actors as gay aging alligator wrestlers in colonial Virginia would still be good). They went on a whirlwind Bucket List fulfillment trip. The went sky diving. Flew over the North Pole. Went to Everest base camp. Of course, none of it really was worth the small things in life. The best thing of all was the misanthropic Nicholson reuniting with his estranged daughter and meeting his granddaughter for the first time. Schmaltzy? Yes. Completely believable? Absolutely.

Rather than a bucket list, I have this belief of (stolen from Shawshank Redemption) – “Get busy living, or get busy dying”. This first took hold about 15 years ago. We were vacationing down South. My son saw this odd looking “paddle bike” in the lake for rent. He asked if we could do it. I mumbled a “we’ll see. Maybe. I don’t know”. As expected froma 9 year old, he grumbled “yeah, as always, that means we won’t do it”. I thought for a second, and he was right. We then went right over and rented that awful contraption and had a riot. From then on I decided that I may never be rich or famous or a great athlete or anything like that. BUT – I would start to live my life. Since then I have raced skeleton sleds, and run the Ironman and put together a public access political show and am working on a rock documentary about The Zambonis. None of these things are things that ever made it to a “bucket list”. They were there, and I did them.

About three years ago, my running buddy Phil and I were up at the VIC, and I had a moment I almost broke my Shawshank vow. We were talking with sarah after the 5K race. She had found an Ultramarathon (31 miles on an a rail trail in Dannemora that ran up and down Lyon Mountain). Phis says “We gotta do this”. We were , at that point, in no shape for that race. It was 9 weeks away. I said “Ah, well, maybe next year”. Phil hardly skipped a beat. “John. I’m 60 years old. I’m not getting any younger”. So of course, 9 weeks later I found myself at the Dannemora prison rec facility in just about the worst pain of my life, but I had finished my first ultra-marathon.

Get busy living, or get busy dying.


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