With ever greater frequency, it seems, I hear people talking about the items on their “bucket lists.”
This term refers to the things one feels called upon to do before “kicking the bucket.”
While it is good to have goals and to push oneself toward various achievements and attainments, I have to question a good deal of what is implied in holding oneself to a focus on such a list.
I am reminded of some young men with whom I studied in the seminary. We had opportunities to travel, and some among us frequently used the expression “BT,” for “been there.” Certain destinations were considered essential to visit, if you considered yourself in any way a worthwhile human being. Your life’s purpose could be called into question if you had not yet “been there.”
So what is implied? That each of us, if we are not to be viewed as leading an utterly vacuous life, must cram into our earthly life span certain experiences which some arbiter of taste — we may not be sure who — has deemed to be essential.
“Bucket lists,” it is believed, are responsible for the heavy and damaging traffic on Mount Everest these days. Many of us have had it drummed into us that a person has not lived unless one experiences the summit of our planet’s highest mountain.
But this insistence on “being there” is really an assertion that, to be a person of worth, one must assimilate what are essentially the experiences of others. We end up discounting the worth — indeed, the holiness — of our own experience. We fail to trust that our own experience, wherever God may be leading us, is already an intimate communion with God which will lead us to discoveries which no one else has yet made.
It may well be that the mountain we are to climb is the one which offers us a “peak” experience of emotional closeness to someone. Such an ascent is the very thing to which the kingdom of God calls us.
We Catholic Christians, in this season of Advent, are called to see that we are to develop a sense of endurance which takes us beyond the “bucket.” In last Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36), Jesus proclaimed that you and I can “stand erect and raise our heads” while others “die of fright.” We do not have to invest ourselves in dubious imitations of prestigious activities. We are, in fact, to immerse ourselves in the adventure of the kingdom which is founded upon the absolute peace which is the gift of our Savior to us.
A bucket list may leave us in a state of supposing that our life can proceed in many directions at once. In fact, true freedom is exercised when we commit to a particular direction. The freedom which is commitment to a direction will always involve renunciation. Some things simply will not happen. So the things which do happen are all the more precious for having emerged from a commitment to a particular path.
If we know that we are loved, we can experience the events of our life as a unity which stretches from these fleeting moments into eternity. Being loved by God enables us to see eternal value in all of our experiences. The richness of life in union with our God is to be preferred to the dizziness of chasing “achievements.”