The Problem with Bucket Lists

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When you are a child, you have no real concept of death. Life is one long, sunny afternoon spent with your mother. You don’t understand that things end. That all the things you hold dear will be taken away from you, not because of any malevolent force but because of one of the most basic qualities of our universe – entropy. The tendency for things to fall apart, to become less complex. It started with the big bang, and a piece of that big bang was seeded in you when your parents had their big bang. But you don’t know it yet.

You first see it when your family dog gets grey around the muzzle. As her back hips become weak and her back starts to crumble. She gets thin and when you try to play with her, she snaps at you. You don’t understand and you cry. Your best friend is fearful and in pain. Your mother will tell you it’s because she is old, but soon she will stop eating all together. Depending on your parents and on your constitution, you will either take the last ride with your dog; stroking her head as she stares up at you with dull, silver eyes, or you won’t. You will stay in your room and she will never come back. But you don’t really know where she’s gone.

“To Heaven.” (Doggie or otherwise).

We still don’t really understand it. We still can’t really comprehend the nothingness. Millions and millions of years of evolution have shaped us to do nothing but seek out sensations. We want to see new things, we want to feel new textures (emotional or physical), we want to taste, we want to hear, we want to drink it all in. We want to gorge ourselves on the sensory overload that is the world and roll around in it. It is in our very DNA. The first cell that could sense food and predators around it had an advantage over the cell next to it that couldn’t. The first multi-celled organism that could distinguish between light and dark had one over the multi-celled organism that couldn’t. And so it grew, in ever-expanding complexity, until we found ourselves here today; taking too many drugs, drinking too much booze, eating too much food, doing our best to have sex with as many people as we can (no matter how demeaning), meditating until we can touch the void, looking for existential feelings outside ourselves with more religions than you can shake a stick at (religions don’t do carrots, remember?) and still – what are we doing but obeying our circuitry?

We live because we live. Because we cannot and will not know anything else. We cannot know what it means to be dead. No matter how much our fragile ego protests, kicks and screams; it does not will any god, energy or afterlife into being. Wouldn’t there have been some evidence by now, other than some mangy old books that make less sense than the Twilight novels?

And so? Where to from here? How are we to make sense of our fleeting time on this planet, with all its terrifying beauty and beautiful terror?

We create lists of things we feel we should do before we die. So that when we are the hunched dog in the back of the car, reeking of piss and grey in the muzzle, we can think to ourselves: I led a life worth living. I jumped out of a plane when I was 28! I went bungee jumping! I had a meaningful date tattooed on my ankle! I said yes more often! I went to the gym (at least) twice a week! I ate more veggies! I phoned my mom more! I went for walks in the forest! I went to movies on my own! I finally went to Paris! I made up with my father! (Not likely.) I drove a Ferrari! I learnt to talk to strangers! I had that extra glass of wine! I took the time to smell the roses! I learnt a new language! I went to pottery classes! I learned how to make sushi! I took up painting! I learnt carpentry!

As the car jolts over the potholes and the smell of the vet’s rooms come closer, as his cold rubber hands reach for your neck to hold you down, is this what you have to offer?

What about people like me? People who haven’t got bucket lists? Have we led good lives? Have our lives been ‘worth living’? Have we missed out on some ‘awesome’ party involving bacon, memes and American Idol? And what if you haven’t managed to tick things off this bucket list of yours? The greatest marketing ploy of all time – seeding the idea that your life is somehow lacking unless you have performed a number of rote, generic tasks somehow deemed by consensus to convey meaning to your life, all rolled up into a movie.

I say fuck jumping out of planes. Fuck getting meaningful dates tattooed on your body. Fuck strangers and fuck foreign languages.

If the quality of your life is defined by a list of things you feel compelled to do because of the worldwide cult of positivity, then something is going wrong. What happens if you fail to complete your aforementioned tasks? What if you have been unable to dance in the rain with gay abandon or backpack across Europe with nothing but a toothbrush and a sexually transmitted disease? If you don’t finish the list you’re a fucking failure.

I am afraid of dying. I am terrified. But when the vet comes for me and parts the scraggly fur on the back of my neck, I’m not going to roll over and say: Hit me buddy – I saw the Great Wall of China. I’m going to turn around and bite his fucking hand, because that’s what being alive is.