Don’t Let Your Bucket List Get in the Way of Life

Have you ever Googled “bucket list”?  According to Google, about 104,000,000 results are available to you:  definitions of, examples of, inspirational stories of — whatever your heart desires when it comes to bucket lists, you can find it on the Internet.

What is a “bucket list”?  According to Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, “bucket list” is “a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying.”  The concept has spawned an entire industry of books in the genre of “things to do before you die” (506,000,000 impressive results returned with this search through Google).

Montepulciano, Italy
Classic bucket list item: Italy!

Is a handbook of ideas on how to enjoy life really necessary?  Would Mary Oliver turn to a “how to” book on how to live her “one wild and precious life”?  Not that lists are a bad thing in and of themselves (says someone with borderline-OCD list-making tendencies).  The satisfaction gained from crossing off an item to confirm its demise or completion is satisfying indeed.

Working with a view
Ready to create the next list . . .

Back to bucket lists, though.

Surprisingly, this is one list I have not formally created.  I have my home improvement list, my grocery list, a list of places I would like to travel, the list of digital photo albums I still have yet to make, and so forth.  I do not have a bucket list of life, though.

Recently, I experienced a medical complication that caught me off-guard.  I felt as if I had happened to lean over as the bullet went whizzing by, and then stood up initially oblivious that a gun had been fired.  The fact I have not had such an experience until my late 40’s has me counting my blessings; but at any age, I suspect it gives a person pause.

I spent an afternoon in the emergency room but, with gratitude, was released home for outpatient treatment.  I watered my gardens, did some laundry, ran a couple errands.  In other words, I went on with my life as scheduled.  Every day has a question mark next to it, and there are simply some days when that question mark seems to be written in pen more than pencil.

As I watered my gardens, deadheading some flowers, yanking some weeds that were done flowering and no longer passable as cottage garden guests, a bumblebee stung me. I apparently disturbed it as it was collecting pollen from my past-their-prime flowering weeds.  I brushed off the poor thing, and it shakily flew off to continue its work.  It was merely reacting to a threat, I felt no ill will.  No point in harming it further.  The small swelling on my arm would fade soon enough.  And I went on with my work, as well. 

Bumblebee at work

Puttering in the garden, examining the world at dirt-level, is quite therapeutic.  The mind can wander as it takes in the delicate details of Nature’s work, formed or assisted by (wo)man’s hands here and there.

Spending some time that evening in the garden, I reflected upon my life until now.  I began drafting this post and then happened to read Kathy’s post on Lake Superior Spirit that posed the question: what would you do if you knew you only had 30 days left to live?  Put another way, what would you put on your bucket list?

Pondering Lake Superior's beauty from Carlton Peak
Pondering Lake Superior’s beauty from Carlton Peak

Whether it be 30 days or 30 years, go ahead and do the things you have dreamed of doing — travel to exotic locales, bungee jump or skydive (while I watch you from below!), splurge on something that gives you pleasure, pay it forward in a meaningful way.  Make a list if that is your style, but leave some space between the lines.  The spaces are always there, even if your bucket list changes over time, and even when the page ends before your list is complete. Within those bucket list items — before, after and in between each line item — life happens.  Experiences are wonderful, adventures are memorable, but the real guts of life are contained in the moments.  Moments happen; they are not something one reserves, creates, or purchases.  

Enjoying a hike at Blue Mound State Park, Minnesota
Hiking and making memories at Blue Mound State Park, Minnesota

With a pen in hand, gleefully striking off one item and looking to the next one, don’t forget to pause in between, and take some time to stop and smell the roses — even if a bumblebee happens to take offense.  Simply nod and step aside, begging its pardon, and go on your separate ways, living and enjoying the moments each day holds.

Ciao! ~ Kat  

39 responses to “Don’t Let Your Bucket List Get in the Way of Life”

  1. Well said Kat. I don’t really have a bucket list either, although like you I cannot function without my daily lists!! 🙂


  2. You’re so right. Living in the moment is more important than checking off items on a list. In fact our “to do” list should be…making memories that will accompany us contentedly from this world. My bucket list is comprised of tongue-in-cheek, humorous things, that if they happened would be the icing on the cake. But I definitely wouldn’t sacrifice the cake for the icing. 🙂


  3. Looks like we need to get together to ponder life’s little reminders to slow down and see the everyday beauty that surrounds us and catch up on why you had a visit to the emergency room. Talk to you soon.


  4. Beautiful! It reminded me of this quote attributed to Bil Keane that I saw recently: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.”


  5. That is a really beautiful post, Kat!! Really touched the heart. You are so right, we are too busy chasing the things on our various lists, crossing out accomplishments and moving ahead immediately to score the next point that we do not really take time to smell the flowers along the way! This post just reminded me to take a much needed pause… Thank you!!


  6. Glad to hear you “dodged a bullet.” Those experiences definitely help put life into perspective. I agree that the joys of life truly happen within everyday moments–often in unexpected places and times. The beauty of a bucket list is that it allows you to dream, hope and plan… and I love your idea of letting life fill in the gaps between those bucket list, mountaintop experiences. Thanks so much for the reminder!


  7. Thought-provoking post, Kat! I really enjoyed it. I try to live in the moment most of the time, and I don’t have a bucket list. I’m not sure if I only had 30 days or 30 months left to live, that I would do anything different, other than visit family more and spend time in nature – which I do plenty of now anyway! The Bucket List movie, was of importance since viewing it deeply on a spiritual level (not religious) brought about pondering the real experience of life. Not about checking off a list, but finding a place of peace and love.


  8. Kat, pondering my response with a bit of a rush of tears in my eyes and tumbling thoughts as you once again nailed in your beautifully written way so many true and sage life wisdoms…it may have been just the beautiful simplicity of the emotions evoked by the hiking photo of the John and your son and their held hands in that beautiful setting….thinking of the scare you had….scares in my own life, thinking of things not done but yet thinking of the moments lived as life moves forward and yes the sting of the bee (had my first one a couple of weeks ago too and as you brushed it by). So here is to today and with gratitude Cheryl


  9. every once in a while something happens that jars my world, like your trip to the emergency room–and it makes all those everyday boring tasks like watering your garden and doing laundry jewels in the passage of life–you grasp their everydayness, the option of still being able to carry on and the gratitude that the worst did not happen and hamper you
    -loved this whole post but do not beleive in bucket lists, I believe in life lists


  10. This was a great, thought-provoking post, Kat. Your ending advice” to take some time to stop and smell the roses” is worth repeating again and again. We sometimes get so caught up in matters of the Future that we completely overlook the Present. The 1st item of every bucket list should be “Enjoy the Day.”


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