Sunday, May 8, 2011


Back in 1999 I checked out a Web site called Death Clock to see how long I was expected to live. It was a completely unscientific and arbitrary process, but I learned that at the age of 37 I had about another 37 years to go. That seemed pretty good. February 24, 2036 was the predicted date of my demise. I could plan on that, get my affairs in order in plenty of time, and daughter Kelsey would be sure to remember each year because it is the day after her birthday. Cheery!

Of course now twelve more years have passed, and facing age 49 in a few more days I revisited my old friend Death Clock to read the good news. Lo and behold I was given the same exact day to cease breathing: February 24, 2036. What? Are you kidding me? I drink less, I eat better, and I actually have spent the last twelve years running marathons.

Maybe it is as unscientific and arbitrary as I first believed. All it asks is gender and birth date. No questions about diet, exercise, lifestyle. It is no more accurate than “what’s your name . . . okay, that means you’ll live to 103.” Still, I think I should pay attention.

Time is of the essence. I’ve apparently got only 25 years to go. The days and weeks are winding down, and it is imperative that I get going on those “accomplishments” that people can recall when I am mentioned in memoriam. It can’t just be “he was so handsome” and it certainly won’t be “he did so much charitable work.”

I need me a bucket list! One of those lists of things I want to do to prove that my life mattered. Never mind the long-term marriage and the three great kids. I need Machu Picchu, windsurfing on Walden Pond, and a motorcycle ride around the rim of an active volcano. I need to get a tattoo, live on a dollar a day for a year, and learn how to play Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 on a harp.

If these next 25 years are going to measure up, the more outlandish the goal the better. That’s what these buckets are always full of: narcissistic, look-at-me goals by which we can feel superior . . . even if we never achieve a fraction of them. I’d be seriously interested in a study that determines how successful these bucket list makers are in completing the dream.

Perhaps it would be better if the bucket list was comprised of honorable and selfless goals, rather than just a badge of cool things accomplished in a life. Lunch with George Clooney or hammering with Habitat for Humanity? Skydiving over Papua New Guinea or helping illiterate adults learn to read?

If it sounds boring, don’t do it! If, however, it would just be the greatest thing you could ever do in your life, then go ahead and schedule that lunch. Just let George pick the restaurant.

Another quandary: is the bucket list containing just one item (even if it is super great) less impressive than the bucket list of 100 more inferior ambitions? Is this all merely another ego trip? I fear that we will start to be competitive and attempt to determine whose bucket list is best. Because if someone’s is best, I should no doubt be reading it over to see if there is something I can take from it to add to mine. Eventually someone’s bucket list will include the line item “have the world’s best bucket list” and fistfights will ensue.

I’m 49 years old next week and I’m pretty sure 50 comes after that. I am in no mood for a fistfight, over this or any other issue. Whether Death Clock is right or not with regard to the date, my time is certainly finite (like yours, I daresay). I ought to have a plan for what I want to do with whatever time is left. I will watch my three offspring grow to be exemplary adults, and the wife and I will travel and play Gin Rummy and walk to the library.

The thrilling events will no doubt happen here and there, but for the most part I think I will simply live. I’m beginning to think that perhaps my bucket list has only one entry: never make a bucket list.

1 comment:

  1. Matt, your bucket is indeed a thing of great interest. I also have harbored visions of seeing Machu Picchu up close and personal for many years. Today my body says "forget it!" Reminding me of your pending b'day brings to mind some of the less heartwarming days that have fallen upon us in the last three months. We have lost three cousins and three very close personal friends during that time. OK, some were in their mid to late nineties, but others were in their mid seventies, younger than us. Buckets and mortality definitely go hand in hand, and it would appear that we have our hands full right now; although the bucket is growing lighter as the mortality looms heavier. We hope that your bucket runneth over with good things in the future.


    With our love,

    Dad and Connie