Sunday, April 2, 2017

What's on Your Bucket List?

Mara here. Do you have a bucket list? I like the idea of making a list of things you want to do before you die—kick the bucket. I don’t have a formal written one, but when I see something that peaks my interest, I often add it to the imaginary list in my head.

For some reason, creating an actual list feels like it would suddenly make it very serious and official, so I'd have to try and figure out what a true bucket list encompasses. Is it simply a list of things I would like to do? Or is it a list of what I really want in life? 

If I’m being honest, what I really want in life is for my daughter and husband to be happy. But I don’t think that’s that kind of thing one puts on a bucket list. The next thing that pops into my head is that I want to add a bathroom onto our bedroom, but is that a real bucket list kind of thing? Not sure. Maybe I’m overthinking this whole bucket list thing. 

This is why I've never created an official bucket list. I'd make it too complicated. I'd start to question it too much. 

In addition, my list would be constantly changing. What would have been on my bucket list five years ago is different from what would be on it today. Plus, I assume the idea of the bucket list is that it consists of things you might reasonably be able to complete at some point. But my list would never be completed because I'd be constantly adding and deleting things. Then I'd feel like a bucket list failure, which I am also pretty sure is not the goal of keeping a bucket list.

Also, what I would like to do in my head is very different from what I would enjoy practically. Seeing the pyramids in Egypt is definitely something I think I want to do. But traveling to Egypt might be dangerous, depending on what's happening in the world. And my creaky old body gets really uncomfortable on long plane flights now…so would I really enjoy a trip to Egypt? Maybe not. But part of me still thinks that I want to see the pyramids, so it probably does belong on my bucket list.

I’m also a little wary of bucket lists because sometimes when I've done things that were obvious, definite bucket list type things, they weren’t the experiences I thought they would be. A few years ago, my daughter was working in Japan, so we took the opportunity to visit Seoul, Korea. I knew that visiting the city of my birth (where I was adopted from) was on my in-my-head bucket list. I had dreamed of going since I could remember being told I was adopted from Korea. So we took a trip to Seoul. And, while visiting a new place is always interesting, Seoul was a bit of a disappointment. It didn’t feel special. I didn’t feel any sort of connection to it. However, I was enamored with Kyoto in Japan. So, what’s the point of a bucket list if the things on it aren’t nearly as interesting as the things that are not on it?

And really, what separates a bucket list item from non-bucket list items? Is it the expense? The time? The likelihood of accomplishment? Whether or not it’s been extensively planned and done on purpose? Sometimes I'm daydreaming about what I think is my bucket list and I'm just making a regular non-bucket list of things I need to do like go grocery shopping and change the batteries in my smoke detector.

And if I don’t accomplish any of my bucket list items, does that mean that I somehow didn’t live my life correctly? That seems like the wrong attitude toward the bucket list.

What does attract me about the idea of a bucket list is that I do enjoy identifying things that inspire me, things that motivate me. And there is a very special feeling when I accomplish or experience something that I have been working toward for a long. 

Oh, and I also have a reverse-bucket list for things I didn't realize would mean a lot to me at the time I did them, but when I look back, they had a very significant impact on my life.

One thing I do love is discovering what items are on other people’s bucket lists, because often I realize some of the things I've experienced that felt mundane or perhaps were not particularly memorable, are things another person wishes they could experience. This realization puts things in perspective because sometimes it takes viewing things through other people's eyes to realize how fortunate we are. 

Finally, thinking about how my own view of bucket lists has changed as I've gotten older, I wondered how my mom's illness has changed her long term goal-setting and her expectations for the future. And, does she even have a bucket list? 

So here are a few questions for my mom. (Below her answers are a few of my bucket list items. Read them now before they change!)

Did you ever have a bucket list?

Well, I used to do what you're doing—have one in my head that changed all the time. I never had a written list, but I had lots of ideas for one, mostly places I wanted to travel to. 

Has being chronically ill for so long affected how you think of bucket lists?

Absolutely. The year I got sick, 2001, turned out to be a real watershed moment in my life. So many things changed. One of them was that the idea of a bucket list became irrelevant. I guess you could say it was a casualty of the illness. 

As people who've read my books know, I got sick on a trip to Paris. I wanted to go to there as opposed to traveling all over Europe or even just around France. The plan was to stay in Paris for three weeks so my husband and I could immerse ourselves in Parisian life. So, that was one thing that was on my in-my-head bucket list.

And I had a lot of other places in mind to go and other things I wanted to do. Instead, what's happened in the almost 16 years that I've been chronically ill is that I've watched family and friends live out most of my bucket list. I always wanted to go to Japan, now you've gone there. Your brother's been to several countries in Europe. And my close friend Dawn, has travelled to many places since I've been sick. She's been to Japan, Australia, Brazil, Italy, New York City many times, and she's about to leave for Austria and Germany. 

All this went on while I was stuck at home. At first, when I would hear about other people travelling and going places, it was very hard—especially if they were going someplace I wanted to go. It was as if I were saying: "Wait you can't go there; that's on MY bucket list."

But now I rarely think about things I'd like to do in the future. My focus is on getting through each day as best I can—making the most of what I've got.

So when I think about the future, which is what a bucket list focuses on, I don't have a lot of wishes. Aside from the global ones we all share, such and end to poverty and famine, my wishes for the future are that you and your brother and your spouses and your children be happy, which you talked about in your essay. I don't think that kind of wish is what most people think of as bucket-list material—which, for the most part, consists of fun things that people want to do.

My other two wishes are health-related, so I don't think of them as bucket-list items either. First, when I think about the future, I find myself wishing that I don't wind up in a hospital surrounded by doctors and staff who don't understand my illness. Second, and this looms large for me, I wish that nothing happens to your dad that would require me to be at his bedside in a hospital all day long, because I couldn't do it.

So that pretty much covers my wishes for the future: happiness for my family and no medical crises. As I said, I don't think that's really a bucket list.

So how does that make you feel that you don't have fun aspirations for the future? Does it make you feel sad? Or is it liberating not to be constantly planning your future?

That's an interesting question. My initial reaction to what you said is to feel a bit sad. I think, "I want to go so many places and do so many things." But that thought passes quickly because I feel better when I'm not constantly longing to do things and just focus on trying to make each day as pleasant as I can.

So yes, it is liberating not to be longing to do things. Well, there is one thing  I long to do. I want to see your house. [Mara note: we bought it about three years after mom got sick and we live 400 miles away.]

Really? That's your one bucket list wish? I feel like you would be terribly disappointed. [My house is really not anything special and usually needs to be dusted.]

Well, I'd still like to see it, so I guess yeah, I do have a bucket list!


Mara's Bucket List:

—Have a pet squirrel (My husband tells me squirrels are the pets of serial killers...but I still want one.)

—See the Northern Lights [Toni here. I've seen them. They're spectacular, and I hope you get to see them.]

—Walk on the Great Wall of China

—See the pyramids in Egypt

—Successfully make my own pore strips (This might belong on the pipe dream list because I keep trying and failing.)

—Get a wedding ring tattoo (This could easily be accomplished except that I’m very afraid of the pain.)

—See the earth from space (But I have no desire to actually travel in space so I’m not sure how I would accomplish this.)

—Own a tiny house (I am obsessed with tiny houses, but I’m not sure I could actually live in one, so it may not be the best investment.)

—See Mount Rushmore (I have a bizarre fear of giant things—faces, heads, etc. so this one scares me, but I am determined to see it. I have actually had nightmares... but still really want to see it!)

—Write a book [Toni here: At least you've had a book dedicated to you!]

—Learn shorthand

—Find the perfect purse [Toni here: Good luck with that!]


  1. Mara. 1) Go see the pyramids in Mexico. Not such a long plane trip. 2) We just stayed in a "tiny hotel room." There were 4 1/2 feet from the wall to the bunk beds (yes) that we slept in. TV was on the wall. It was all very compact/"efficient." The 12 ft. ceilings made it seem not so cramped. I came away thinking tiny houses are not all they are cracked up to be. 3) Please, when you perfect the pore strips, let me know! 4) Since I was a child, I have always had a fear of large letters, as in type style. I used to have nightmares about them. So odd. ~ Nadine

    1. Going anywhere in Mexico is actually one of my non-listish type things. I feel like I'm not actually a Californian until I go... but yes I want to see the Aztec pyramids too!!! Yeah, Brad's not at all convinced about that tiny house thing haha... So weird about your large letters and my big heads/planets/people fear. I'll have to look up if there's a word for it. I will keep you posted about the pore strips. Google has remembered I looked it up once so now I keep getting recipes in my FB ads!! xo-M