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October 26, 2009

The Bucket List

I celebrated another birthday this month. It happens every October and I hope it keeps happening for awhile. Birthdays are, on the average, minor celebrations at our house. Occasionally a big number is put up and maybe there is a party, or maybe not. I get the usual assortment of cards but they come from unusual places. Many of my closest friends never remember birthdays, but I still get the odd card or call from people I knew long ago, some I haven’t seen in two or three decades. There are also the “coupon” cards from places where I joined the “birthday club” and in return I get a free entree or 10% off something. Most often I find them about March, after they have all expired, and put them in the recycling. It is a nice thought though to know a total stranger is thinking of my commerce on “my special day.”

This past year there was a movie called “The Bucket List.” The plot involved two people who met in the hospital as they battled terminal diseases and decided to do things they always wanted to do before they “kicked the bucket.” It was pretty good but best as a “renter.” When you start piling up birthdays it is hard not to identify with the characters because, face it, time is getting short or at least shorter.

We Americans love lists so it was inevitable that these two ideas would be combined to offer us all sorts of possibilities. I have, for example, a book entitled Fifty Places to Fish Before You Die. If I tried to fish them all I would probably kill myself trying or most certainly go broke. There was a time when that sort of thing appealed to me. I wanted to hike farther and climb higher. I wanted to enter every road race and run multiple marathons. I wanted to fish the world’s most exotic locations. I still want to do some of those things but many of them have lost their urgency.

A few weeks back I spoke to students in chapel on the subject of happiness. There is a book titled Happier by Dr. Tal Ben-Sharar that is based on a course that he teaches and is the most popular course at Harvard. In it he weaves together principles that can lead to a meaningful and pleasurable life. He discusses at length the problems associated with materialism and how that affects our definitions of success.

The past few weeks of financial instability have seen many people, including me, lose a substantial part of the funds they had counted on for retirement. It has made me realize just how much material things have falsely contributed to my own sense of well being.

Perhaps the most redeeming moment in the “The Bucket List” was when one of the characters, in the last throws of an illness that would claim his life, returned to the love and support of family. It is sometimes hard to figure out what is really important in life until age or illness or trauma demand that we make changes. In Philippians 4 Paul offers some good words for today when he tells those who have sent him aid that he appreciated it but he had learned to live with a little and to live with a lot because of the strength found in Christ.