Ways of Seeing: Johanna Nichols, Bucket or not, goals remain vital
The idea of a bucket list comes from the idiom “kick the bucket.” It assumes that there are experiences or achievements that one hopes to have or accomplish during one’s lifetime. I resist the idea that I should have a bucket list.
According to World Life Expectancy, a white woman in Vermont lives to the average age of 82.61. So, if I live out my natural lifetime, I might be around for another twelve to twenty years. Possibly long enough to see my grandchild grow into a young woman — to see who she becomes.
“And time is a curious thing,” writes Fredrik Backman in “A Man Called Ove.”
“Most of us only live for the time that lies right ahead of us. A few days, weeks, years. One of the most painful moments in a person’s life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead. And when time no longer lies ahead of one, other things have to be lived for . . . Afternoons in the sun with someone’s hand clutched in one’s own. The fragrance of flower beds in fresh bloom. Sundays in a café. Grandchildren … One finds a way of living for the sake of someone else’s future.”
I find myself entering into the developmental stage of “young old age.” Hearing myself saying, “I’m getting older.” Realizing that I don’t get as much done in a day as I used to which either means I am getting slower or life is getting faster! Losing some strength in my hands. A body with aches and pains that come and go. Feeling a little reluctance to hop on an airplane.
Friends in their 80s and 90s laugh when I speak of growing older. I observe their exercise routines and their activities — I can tell you that I could not keep up with them.
I visited an exhibit in the Oakland Museum of California created by a young woman who walked along San Pablo Avenue and asked people “what message would your 80-year-old self have for you?” She turned the responses into colorful art. I remember: Life is precious; You’ll get through it; It is possible.
I asked some of my friends who are in their eighties, from your years of wisdom, what messages do you have for those younger than you? Here is what they said: Take advantage of opportunities — physical activities, because you don’t know how much longer you will be able to do so; be with family even if far flung; savor the beauty of the world around you; keep active — physically and mentally; take time to laugh. Accept change, however reluctantly. Do things that make you feel good, feel happy. Don’t put off things you want to do and, yes, make a bucket list.
In recent months, I see friends in their later years feeling the institutions they value and have supported all their lives seriously challenged. With a sense that time is running out, they persist. “One finds a way to live for someone else’s future.” I feel the same.
French historian and philosopher Michel Foucault wrote “People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.” I trust our persistence to create some ripples.
American writer Rebecca Solnit assures us, “You do what you can. What you’ve done may do more than you can imagine for generations to come. You plant a seed and a tree grows from it; will there be fruit, shade, habitat for birds, more seeds, a forest, wood to build a cradle or a house? You don’t know. A tree can live much longer than you. …You do what you can do; you do your best; what what you do does is not up to you.”(from “Hope in the Dark”).
Maybe I do have a few wishes. I would like to visit Paris. I would like to see a woman president of the United States. I would like to live into the future of my grandchild.
Johanna Nichols is a grandmother, writer and Unitarian Universalist minister emerita. She welcomes responses to these columns at [email protected].
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