I stole that title from a blog post at The New Yorker this week because it perfectly expresses my sentiments on the topic.
I didn't like the 2007 movie and even more, I dislike the cultural adoption of the idea itself even if it has become one of the few things enthusiastically shared by young and old generations.
My objection to bucket lists is that they are too superficial. They reduce experience, even life itself, to grocery list status – items to be checked off one after the other, then forgotten like an item on a Buzzfeed listicle. Experience – and, certainly, life – is much more important than that.
Rebecca Mead has written a couple of books, contributes articles to many international newspapers and magazines and has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1997. Reading her work is always a pleasure and often instructive.
So when Ms. Mead takes up the topic of bucket lists, who am I to try to match her skills of which I am both jealous and a fan. Instead, I will report to you the reason you should pay attention.
Her article takes as its starting point President Barack Obama's side trip to Stonehenge earlier this week after which he told the attendant press, “Knocked it off the bucket list right now,” before returning home to the United States.
I recall cringing when I read that remark. It was way too cavalier for my taste after visiting a place (particularly with the privilege of doing so unencumbered by tourist masses) that holds so many ancient mysteries. As Ms. Mead writes:
”Dropping by Stonehenge for ten minutes and then announcing you’ve crossed it off your bucket list suggests that seeing Stonehenge - or beholding the Taj Mahal, or visiting the Louvre, or observing a pride of lions slumbering under a tree in the Maasai Mara - is something that, having been done, can be considered done with.
”This is the YOLO-ization of cultural experience, whereby the pursuit of fleeting novelty is granted greater value than a patient dedication to an enduring attention - an attention which might ultimately enlarge the self, and not just pad one’s experiential résumé.
“The notion of the bucket list legitimizes this diminished conception of the value of repeated exposure to art and culture. Rather, it privileges a restless consumption, a hungry appetite for the new. I’ve seen Stonehenge. Next?”
Bucket lists seem to me to be a youthful pursuit – or ought to be. The older I get, the more I crave a greater understanding of the people, places and things I encounter, and these days I seek the time to contemplate them as I was too impatient to do when I was young.
Ms. Mead concludes:
What if, instead, we compiled a different kind of list, not of goals to be crossed out but of touchstones to be sought out over and over, with our understanding deepening as we draw nearer to death?
“These places, experiences, or cultural objects might be those we can only revisit in remembrance - we may never get back to the Louvre - but that doesn’t mean we’re done with them.
“The greatest artistic and cultural works, like an unaccountable sun rising between ancient stones, are indelible, with the power to induce enduring wonder if we stand still long enough to see.”
Yes. Exactly. And although I have given you a few important passages from Rebecca Mead's essay, you should go to The New Yorker to read the whole thing, to take the time to appreciate her graceful writing and her thoughtfulness, whether you agree about bucket lists or not.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dan Gogerty: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Past